Cape Town - The last time the Bulls had a play-off in Europe, they were given very little chance of winning.
Coach Jake White and his team headed to Dublin on a hope and a prayer of beating Leinster, who were also still smarting from losing the Champions Cup final 24-21 to La Rochelle in Marseille two weeks earlier.
That result came after the Irish giants had dispatched Toulouse 40-17 in the semi-finals, so they would’ve expected to win the title.
So, coach Leo Cullen and his team had the added motivation of pushing for the United Rugby Championship (URC) silverware, but they were out-gunned by a passionate Bulls outfit on a memorable Friday night at the RDS Arena and clinched a 27-26 triumph.
White’s squad face a similar scenario heading into Sunday’s Champions Cup last-16 clash against Toulouse in France – although they are even more desperate than they might have been in Dublin last June.
They’ve lost their last eight games across all competitions (and 11 out of 13), and their season is heading for disaster. They need to win their last two URC games, against Zebre and Leinster in South Africa, to be sure of a quarter-final spot.
The Bulls have lost three in a row in the Currie Cup as well, and are rank outsiders against Toulouse.
So, it is the kind of situation that requires a miracle at the Stade de Toulouse on Sunday afternoon, something the Bulls have done before …
“You try to find confidence out of things that happened in the past, and what happened when we played Leinster and beat them is that Toulouse had been hammered by Leinster in the semi-finals of the Champions Cup as well … So, at the same time we beat Leinster, they were good enough to beat Toulouse comfortably in the semi-final,” White said from the southern French city this week.
“So, there are a lot of positives to take out of that – we know we can do it, we know that our squad’s good enough. If we play well enough, there is no reason why we can’t get a result.
“And like anything, winning creates confidence, and losing creates doubt … whatever sporting code you’re in. We’ve just got to keep working hard, just keep believing, and when that thing turns, we will appreciate the winning a lot more.”
But ultimately, both teams will have 15 players on the pitch. Sure, Toulouse have a virtual French national team – apart from Six Nations Player of the Year Antoine Dupont, they also boast Test stars such as Thomas Ramos, Romain Ntamack, Francois Cros, Julien Marchand and Cyril Baille.
“Last year, we played the whole Irish team, and a lot of those players went on to win the Six Nations and Grand Slam this year as well. It is where we are as a group.
“We don’t have the list of international players that other teams around us have. But there is no use in trying to control things you have no control over,” the Bulls Director of Rugby said.
“What we can control is the fact that we need to play well. It’s a great opportunity to measure ourselves. We want to be a part of this competition for a long time.”