Bulls want to give South Africa a rugby morale boost ahead of Lions tour, says Jake White
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DURBAN - South African rugby has suffered more than most due to the Coronavirus pandemic but the Bulls now have a great opportunity to give their country a shot in the arm by winning the Rainbow Cup final against Benetton in Treviso on Saturday.
The Bulls were ultimately emphatic winners of the South section, finishing nine points clear on the log after convincingly beating the Sharks 34-22 on their home turf in the last match of the competition, and they fully deserve to fly South Africa’s colours overseas for the first time since Super Rugby was curtailed in March 2020.
No South African team has played abroad since then, and the Bulls have dominated South African rugby post-lockdown, winning Super Rugby Unlocked and the Currie Cup.
Interestingly, the Bulls are also the South African Rainbow Cup team which is least affected by the Springbok call-ups which kick in this week, thus giving them decent continuity for their trip to Italy — they lose just four players: Duane Vermeulen (who is in any case injured), Morne Steyn, Trevor Nyakane and Marco van Staden.
Bulls coach Jake White says his team embraced the responsibility of giving South Africa a boost in morale ahead of the imminent tour of the British and Irish Lions.
Speaking just after having beaten the Sharks, White said: "I just saw (Sharks coach) Sean Everitt and he told me: 'Go win it for South Africa'. The reality is that everyone just wants to see something different. We have a great chance to play in Europe for the first time and we want to measure ourselves against the best in competition.”
White said that having made the final, the Bulls are hardly going to slack off.
“This isn't about reward,” White said of making the final. “It's an exciting occasion for the whole of South Africa. Everyone is just keen to see a different type of game to the local derbies. We've had to play each other so many times.
“We want to see where we compare to the only team that's been unbeaten in this tournament.”
Benetton, captained by former Western Province scrumhalf Dewald Duvenage, are the surprise winners of the North section, and while they haven’t lost a match, they are likely underdogs.
White said his squad had been vaccinated and were ready to fly to Italy on Monday night.
“We were part of the Sisonke clinical trial and vaccination programme, so we have ticked that box,” he said.
“Obviously, there will still be a few tests that everyone will have to undergo on Sunday morning with the results back by early Monday, and then we will be set to get on the plane.