FILE - Bulls head coach Jake White. Photo: Steve Haag/BackpagePix
FILE - Bulls head coach Jake White. Photo: Steve Haag/BackpagePix

‘Don’t be scared’: Jake tells Bulls to have fun in Leinster showdown

By Ashfak Mohamed Time of article published Sep 25, 2021

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They’ve ruled South Africa, but were handed a “rugby lesson” by Benetton in the Rainbow Cup final.

Now the Bulls have to square up to the mighty Leinster, Ireland’s powerhouse province who are four-time European champions and have won the previous incarnation of the United Rugby Championship a record eight times.

That includes the last four seasons, so it is a truly daunting prospect for Jake White’s team when they run out in front of a big crowd at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin tonight (6.15pm SA time kickoff).

But it is exactly that prospect that excites White about the occasion. Whereas the Bulls were favourites to beat Benetton in the Rainbow Cup final in June, they are rank underdogs against Leinster.

Very few pundits would call a Bulls victory tonight, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a chance.

Former Springbok coach White wants his team, which is mixed with the youth of David Kriel and Elrigh Louw and the experience of Bismarck du Plessis and captain Marcell Coetzee to not fall into the same trap that the Bulls did in Italy, where they appeared overwhelmed by their opponents.

“I suppose the most important message is just enjoy it. Every one of these Leinster players started like us – whether they are Test players now or Johnny Sexton, who has done everything in rugby. They started like Keagan Johannes, and Simphiwes (Matanzima)… If you understand that, all you’ve got to do is go out there and give your best,” White said yesterday from Dublin.

“I think that’s what we want to measure tomorrow, whether our best is good enough to beat the four-time European champions. This is like playing Barcelona in front of 38 000 people.

“My message to them is just go and have fun, and enjoy it. Don’t be scared about the fact that all these guys you are playing against were like you… they had the same fears and pressures that you’re going to have, and that’s the nice thing about sport – you watch these players grow.”

White believes that the Bulls are a better team now than the one that lost to Benetton, and they have certainly added some serious names to the group. Johan Goosen has recovered from Covid-19, and his flyhalf battle with Irish master Johnny Sexton will be one to savour, while veteran hooker Du Plessis will make his Bulls debut.

Walt Steenkamp is a lineout specialist who is also back from injury, and there is some serious firepower on the bench too in the shape of flank Jacques du Plessis and centre Stedman Gans.

“We learnt a lot in that Rainbow Cup final. We were naïve in thinking we could play after flying over from South Africa, three days to prepare and play in a final… Now we get to play an even stronger side historically, and I don’t think Leinster have ever lost to Benetton. It just puts things into perspective, and we have to be really up for this game,” White said.

“But taking nothing away from the team that we put out (in the final), our team is significantly different now. We’ve had much more time to spend together, and time as coaches to see what worked and what didn’t.

“We are going to see tomorrow whether or not those improvements are going to be good enough to put Leinster under pressure. The measurable will only be at the end of that fixture.

“But I’ve got to reinforce that it is about 21 games in this competition, which ends in May. It’s not do-or-die tomorrow. As much as we want to do well, I also am realistic that it’s 21 games and the tournament only ends in May next year. We’ve got to make sure that we improve between now and then.”

Teams For Aviva Stadium

Leinster: 15 Hugo Keenan 14 Rory O’Loughlin 13 Garry Ringrose 12 Ciaran Frawley 11 James Lowe 10 Johnny Sexton (captain) 9 Luke McGrath 8 Caelan Doris 7 Josh van der Flier 6 Rhys Ruddock 5 James Ryan 4 Ross Molony 3 Michael Ala’alatoa 2 Dan Sheehan 1 Andrew Porter.

Bench: 16 James Tracy 17 Ed Byrne 18 Cian Healy 19 Ryan Baird 20 Max Deegan 21 Jamison Gibson-Park 22 Ross Byrne 23 Jamie Osborne.

Bulls: 15 David Kriel 14 Cornal Hendricks 13 Lionel Mapoe 12 Harold Vorster 11 Madosh Tambwe 10 Johan Goosen 9 Zak Burger 8 Elrigh Louw 7 Arno Botha 6 Marcell Coetzee (captain) 5 Ruan Nortjé 4 Walt Steenkamp 3 Mornay Smith 2 Bismarck du Plessis 1 Gerhard Steenekamp.

Bench: 16 Joe van Zyl 17 Simphiwe Matanzima 18 Jacques van Rooyen 19 Janko Swanepoel 20 Jacques du Plessis 21 Keagan Johannes 22 Chris Smith 23 Stedman Gans.

@ashfakmohamed

IOL Sport

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