Jake White has likened Leinster to the “Barcelona” of rugby, and he believes that his Bulls team will have a chance to prove just where they stand in European rugby in Saturday’s United Rugby Championship clash at Aviva Stadium.
Leinster have won the URC title eight times in its previous guises, and are the sure favourites to knock over the Currie Cup champions at the home of Irish rugby (6.15pm SA time kickoff).
But the fact that many will think the Bulls stand no chance of winning is exactly what White thinks can motivate his side.
“It’s an unknown for us, but it’s a great opportunity. We are playing Leinster first-up – four-time European champions. It’s almost like the Barcelona of football,” the former Bok coach said on Friday.
“Whether they called it the Magners League or the Celtic League or PRO14, they’ve always been there and thereabouts. There’s not much I need to say this weekend. The image is quite clear – we’ve got one of the top teams in Europe first-up, and it’s a great opportunity for us.
“It’s a benchmark for us early on to see where we are in the competition, and they’ve shared a lot of what makes the Irish players get up for big games. The fact that we will play in front of 38 000 people at Aviva Stadium is a boost for us as well, because it means that it’s a serious game for Leinster supporters and players.”
One challenge the Pretoria side will have to overcome, though, will be the referee’s interpretations up north. Scotland’s Mike Adamson has been appointed for the Leinster-Bulls match, and the South Africans were on the wrong side of the law in the Rainbow Cup final against Benetton in Treviso in June.
White will hope his team can avoid giving away multiple penalties, as veteran Irish flyhalf Johnny Sexton will be eager to line up those shots at goal.
“I think the game is officiated a little bit differently up in the north. I saw that in that Benetton fixture. It doesn’t mean it’s right or wrong. It’s like anything – when you play in a southern-hemisphere tournament year-in and year-out, you play in the Sanzaar Tri-Nations or Rugby Championship, there is a similarity to how the games are played, reffed and the outcomes are very similar,” White said.
“In the northern hemisphere, the officiating and the conditions are so different. You play Leinster in front of 38 000, Edinburgh in front of 7 000 at Murrayfield, and then Zebre in the pelting rain and mud in the middle of January – with their internationals and without are completely different games.
“There’s a lot of reference back to that Benetton game, and how poor we were… And it’s true. But we’ve grown from there. There were a lot of lessons we learnt there, and I think one lesson was the travel – and I know people think it’s not (going through) time-zones.
“But still, it’s travel, and you’ve got to get to Treviso and then it’s a different environment, different field, team, questions… What happened that week, it was the first time we played in front of a crowd, and there’s 38 000 expected this week – and there was about 4 000 that day (in Treviso), and yet it was such a complete difference to what we were used to.
“So, we’ve grown as a team and learnt a lot of lessons from that. Benetton have probably never beaten Leinster before, and we got a rugby lesson from Benetton. We’ve got to make sure that we learn from that tomorrow. But I’m very comfortable that the lessons we learnt, we took to heart and grew in the Currie Cup.”