CAPE TOWN - Since Jake White arrived at the Bulls, it has been all about the trophies.
They won the Super Rugby Unlocked title, clinched the Currie Cup, and topped the log in the Rainbow Cup SA tournament.
But ultimately, it is about measuring yourself against the best in the world, and not just Mzansi. Now White and his marauding Bulls will take the first step in doing just that in the Rainbow Cup final against Benetton in Treviso tonight (6.30pm SA time kick-off).
It is a pity that the former Springbok coach doesn’t have his strongest team in Italy due to national call-ups and injuries, but he was still able to pick a solid team yesterday, with Marcell Coetzee as captain.
Another Test player in Nizaam Carr replaced Marco van Staden at openside flank, and Chris Smith slots in at flyhalf for Morné Steyn.
White said from Treviso yesterday that he opted for the experience of Jan Uys at lock instead of the promising youngster Janko Swanepoel, as Uys had played in European competitions for French club Brive previously.
The big danger for the Bulls would be to underestimate the Italian outfit. The Pretoria side are undoubted favourites, and will be expected to win comfortably.
But Benetton have a number of foreign players in their side, including captain and former Stormers stalwart Dewaldt Duvenage, as well as former Bulls such as hooker Corniel Els and lock Irné Herbst.
“It gives us an opportunity to gauge ourselves against a northern-hemisphere side who will play differently. Maybe they are not that well-known in the PRO14 competition, like Leinster and Munster, but they are at home and have experience of playing against those good sides over the last couple of years,” White said.
“Eleven of these players started for Italy against Scotland a couple of weeks ago, so we are playing against an international-quality team.
“A guy like Corniel Els was a hooker for us just a couple of months back, and played in and won the Currie Cup final with us. He obviously knows all our lineout calls, knows the way we play. Probably knows how I talk to the players before and after the game as well.
“So, we’ve had to probably think a little out of the box, just to come up with a couple of new things and find ways in which we can maybe stimulate a little bit of a different reaction when we run out against a team that we don’t know as well as anyone else.”
The referee, Frank Murphy of Ireland, is also an unfamiliar figure for the Bulls players. White and Coetzee said they will have to adjust to his interpretations as quickly as possible. It will be around 32 degrees in Treviso today, so the evening kick-off in front of 1 000 spectators at the Stadio di Monigo will be welcomed by the Bulls, who White said will look to continue playing their high-tempo game that was so successful in South Africa on what should be a quick, dry surface.
Coetzee called on his team to remain calm. “It’s all about driving your emotion levels. We do have a lot of young players who haven’t been in such an environment, but luckily we are playing for a team that have been in a lot of finals and winning,” he said.
“The temperament on the day will come down to who wants it most. My message was just to relax, stay calm, enjoy the journey. There are going to be some dark places that will arise, but I’m sure the boys will be ready for it.”
BULLS: 15 David Kriel 14 Madosh Tambwe 13 Marco Jansen van Vuren 12 Cornal Hendricks 11 Stravino Jacobs 10 Chris Smith 9 Ivan van Zyl 8 Marcell Coetzee (captain) 7 Ruan Nortjé 6 Nizaam Carr 5 Jan Uys 4 Walt Steenkamp 3 Mornay Smith 2 Johan Grobbelaar 1 Gerhard Steenekamp. Bench: 16 Schalk Erasmus 17 Jacques van Rooyen 18 Lizo Gqoboka 19 Janko Swanepoel 20 Muller Uys 21 Zak Burger 22 Clinton Swart 23 Gio Aplon.
BENETTON: 15 Jayden Hayward 14 Edoardo Padovani 13 Ignacio Brex 12 Marco Zanon 11 Monty Ioane 10 Paolo Garbisi 9 Dewaldt Duvenage (captain) 8 Toa Halafihi 7 Michele Lamaro 6 Sebastian Negri 5 Federico Ruzza 4 Niccolò Cannone 3 Marco Riccioni 2 Corniel Els 1 Thomas Gallo. Bench: 16 Gianmarco Lucchesi 17 Ivan Nemer 18 Filippo Alongi 19 Irné Herbst 20 Manuel Zuliani 21 Marco Barbini 22 Callum Braley 23 Ratuva Tavuyara.