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Reality hits hard after Bulls Rainbow Cup final defeat

Bulls’ Gio Aplon walk past the Rainbow Cup trophy after their loss to Benneton in the final. Photo: Tommy Dickson/INPHO/Shutterstock via BackpagePix

Bulls’ Gio Aplon walk past the Rainbow Cup trophy after their loss to Benneton in the final. Photo: Tommy Dickson/INPHO/Shutterstock via BackpagePix

Published Jun 22, 2021


DURBAN - In 1992, Australia and New Zealand played the Springboks in their first two post-isolation Test matches and both the Aussie and Kiwis were incredulous at how arrogant South Africans were prior to the matches.

Despite the fact that this country had been in isolation for a long time, South Africans thought the Boks were incapable of losing rugby matches, and this was based on the strength of the Currie Cup.

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Our fans were rendered speechless when the Boks were humiliated 26-3 by the Wallabies at Newlands, and that year the Boks would be outclassed in four of the five Tests they played.

ALSO READ: Bulls Rainbow Cup final defeat a warning to SA teams, says Jake White

It was evident in 1992 that the South African rugby had fallen behind the rest of the world while in the wilderness and we were not nearly as good as we thought we were.

I was reminded of this while watching the fleet-footed Benetton team run rings around the ponderous Bulls. Very few South Africans saw this coming, and once again the (flawed) assumption that our rugby would be too strong for foreign opposition was based on how good we looked playing against each other while in isolation.

I understand that the 15-months of Covid-caused isolation is not on the same scale as the Apartheid-induced seclusion but the arrogance produced is the same.

ALSO READ: Not all doom and gloom for Bulls after Benetton ambush, says coach Jake White

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I had watched Benetton play superbly to beat the tricky Irish team Connacht a few weeks back and knew it would not be a walk in the park for the Bulls, but I did think the Bulls would win. They would be made to sweat but they were too strong upfront and would definitely win …

The ancient Greeks invented the word “hubris” to describe excessive pride or self confidence and there was hubris all over the build-up to the match, perhaps reaching a zenith in a national newspaper which declared its regret that the Bulls were playing a lowly Italian team in the final and not a glamour Pro14 side such as Leinster or Munster.

ALSO READ: Benetton beat Bulls in every area, says ’sorry’ captain Marcell Coetzee

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It was further contended that Benetton had fluked their way into the final because they had not played some of the leading Pro14 sides because of Covid-19 cancellations, plus they were a team that had lost all of its games in the previous Pro14 competition.

This last point was true but most were unaware that in that Pro14, Benetton was missing 14 players who were on duty with the Italian national team ... Well those 14 internationals were back for this year's Pro14 and featured in the final against a Bulls team that had lost four international players to the Springbok training camp.

ALSO READ: Inspired Benetton too hot to handle for shell-shocked Bulls in Rainbow Cup final

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I doubt Duane Vermeulen (who in any case was injured), Morne Steyn, Marco van Staden and Trevor Nyakane would have made a significant difference because the Bulls' problems were of a magnitude way beyond the influence of a handful of individuals.

The Bulls, as a collective, underestimated their opposition, believed their own press that they were unbeatable. Most worrying was the prehistoric tactics they employed in the game and then their inability to revert to a plan B when the aimless kicking proved fruitless.

This sobering slap of reality is timeous ahead of the tour of the British & Irish Lions. Wake-up calls are never a bad thing, but will there ever be a permanent cure for South African arrogance?

IOL Sport

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