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Favourable URC draw will help Bulls aim for home final

FILE - Zak Burger of Blue Bulls passes a ball from a scrum when playing against DHL Stormers in the final game of the URC Championship game at Cape Town Stadium. Photo: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency/ANA

FILE - Zak Burger of Blue Bulls passes a ball from a scrum when playing against DHL Stormers in the final game of the URC Championship game at Cape Town Stadium. Photo: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency/ANA

Published Jul 31, 2022

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Cape Town - After a disastrous start to their inaugural United Rugby Championship campaign, there is no doubt that the Bulls will enjoy a much more favourable draw for the 2022/23 season.

Coach Jake White’s team had to fight back from losing five out of their first six matches – where the first five were away from home – to reach the quarter-finals after finishing fourth on the overall log.

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The Bulls managed to beat the Sharks 30-27 in that quarter-final at Loftus Versfeld, and then managed the almost impossible when they toppled the mighty Leinster 27-26 in Dublin a week later.

Perhaps the travelling took some of the sharpness off their game for the final, though, as they flew back to South Africa and took on the Stormers in Cape Town, going down 18-13 in the title decider.

White has often said that the key to success in the URC is to secure home fixtures for all three playoff games, and you can only achieve that by finishing in the No 1 spot after the league is complete.

So, having endured a rough start to last season, the fixture list announced this week should have White smiling. The Bulls’ first three matches are in South Africa instead of overseas, with their opener against the Lions at Ellis Park on the weekend of September 16/17/18, followed by two home games against Edinburgh and then Connacht at Loftus Versfeld.

That will give captain Marcell Coetzee and his team enough time to settle down as a combination, as there will be a few new faces in the squad, before they travel to Europe for their first overseas encounter against the Glasgow Warriors in Scotland on October 7/8/9.

White will hope that Johan Goosen is in full flight by then. The 30-year-old flyhalf has been sidelined by the serious knee injury he sustained on last year’s Euro tour – on a 4G pitch against Cardiff – although he spent time with the Springbok squad during the recent Wales series.

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Bok coach Jacques Nienaber is hoping to take Goosen along on the November trip to Europe, so it will also be in the national interest that the former Cheetahs protégé is ready for action.

While Chris Smith did an admirable job in helping the Bulls reach the URC final, Goosen’s attacking skill-set could provide that extra edge to beat teams like the Stormers, who pulled off three successive wins over their arch-rivals last season.

In addition, new recruit Sbu Nkosi will be eager to regain lost ground after his injury setbacks at the Sharks last season. He is now also out of the Bok mix, but will want to make a fresh start at Loftus Versfeld as a direct replacement for Madosh Tambwe – who has joined French club Bordeaux – out wide.

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Tambwe was one of the stand-outs, so White will want Nkosi to be at his best right from the start.

The Bulls’ only losses at Loftus last season were against the Stormers and Sharks, so they will be confident that they can beat the foreign teams in Pretoria.

Their biggest tests at home will come from the Sharks in late October, the Stormers in mid-February and then their last league clash against Leinster in April.

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But even if the Bulls win all their Loftus fixtures, they will need to pick up away wins as well. Of the European sides, Munster in Limerick (mid-October) and Ulster in Belfast (late March) will be their main challenges, but they must also gain revenge over the Stormers (possibly on Christmas Eve) in Cape Town and knock over the Sharks in Durban (possibly on New Year’s Eve).

But looking at the overall draw, the Bulls have a great opportunity to top the log and ensure they have a home final.

Bulls URC Fixtures

September 16/17/18: Lions, Johannesburg

September 23/24/25: Edinburgh, Pretoria

September 29/30/October 1: Connacht, Pretoria

October 7/8/9: Glasgow Warriors, Glasgow

October 15/16/17: Munster, Limerick

October 21/22/23: Benetton, Treviso

October 28/29/30: Sharks, Pretoria

November 25/26/27: Ospreys, Pretoria

December 2/3/4: Cardiff, Pretoria

December 23/24/25: Stormers, Cape Town

December 30/31/January 1: Sharks, Durban

January 6/7/8: Dragons, Newport

January 27/28/29: Scarlets, Llanelli

February 17/18/19: Stormers, Pretoria

March 3/4/5: Lions, Pretoria

March 24/25/26: Ulster, Belfast

April 14/15/16: Zebre, Parma

April 21/22/23: Leinster, Pretoria

@AshfakMohamed

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