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Jake White happy with opening URC win but knows Bulls will be tested in Europe

Jake White knows his team will be tested when they make their way to their European leg of the URC. Photo: Steve Haag Sports/INPHO/Shutterstock via BackpagePix

Jake White knows his team will be tested when they make their way to their European leg of the URC. Photo: Steve Haag Sports/INPHO/Shutterstock via BackpagePix

Published Oct 25, 2023


When you score nine tries and 63 points, it is difficult to complain about your team’s performance.

But Bulls boss Jake White knows that while he had every right to be delighted with his team’s United Rugby Championship (URC) opener, the real test will come over the next four weeks on their tour of Europe.

The Pretoria outfit overwhelmed the Scarlets of Llanelli in Wales 63-21 at Loftus Versfeld on Sunday but now have to make the big trek up north for this Sunday’s clash with Ulster in Belfast (7pm kick-off).

And while the Northern Ireland side are still missing their World

Cup internationals – which includes Springbok prop Steven Kitshoff – and would have been relieved to see off Zebre 40-36 in Parma last weekend, they are usually tough to beat at their Ravenhill home ground.

What will make the Bulls’ task even tougher is the fact that Ulster have installed a new artificial pitch at their Kingspan Stadium.

It is no secret that the South African franchise have battled on these surfaces up north and it led to the serious knee injury sustained by flyhalf Johan Goosen in Cardiff.

Apart from Ulster, they will face Cardiff and Edinburgh on 4G pitches again on the current trip, as well as Zebre in Italy (on a grass pitch) and White felt that the high-tempo display against the Scarlets will have prepared his team adequately for the four-match tour.

Young No 8 Cameron Hanekom was chosen as the Man of the Match after an excellent performance, while Elrigh Louw kept the Scarlets defence busy with his powerful runs at close quarters.

“You need to get momentum before you go on tour.

“In our first year, we lost five out of six games at the start and still made the final.

“But it is a long tournament, and it is the first time this group has had a proper pre-season,” the former Springbok coach said.

“It’s our third year now, so a lot of the players have experienced that. Some of our players who have joined us, such as Jaco van der Walt, Wilco Louw have played in Europe and are fully aware of how the conditions are there now.

“We are also going to play three of our games on 4G pitches – Ulster have a new 4G pitch, Cardiff and Edinburgh – so it will be a very different surface for us to adapt to.

“Last year, we played Edinburgh and Glasgow and got caught short in terms of the pace of the game.”

White said before the Scarlets clash that the Bulls management had identified introducing more speed into their game during the off-season and he was happy with the way in which Marcell Coetzee’s team were able to stretch the defence with ball-in-hand to avenge last season’s defeat.

They went down 32-23 to Ulster in Belfast in the last campaign too, so they will hope to that result around on Sunday as well.

“We’ve worked hard on our skill level, on getting combinations more fluid, and we had two boys from the Pumas playing together – Devon (Williams) and Sebastian de Klerk,” White said.

“We put Cameron at No 8 with two experienced guys like Marcell and Elrigh, which obviously helped. You have to be happy with that, and it’s a nice building block for this tour.

“The most important thing was that we combined with the forwards and backs with the way we played.

“We played at altitude at 32°C and we wanted it to be a game where we move the ball around and we used our skill-sets.

“There are other things such as the scrum and line-out that were good.

“It might be very different over the next few weeks in the wind and rain, but at times in this game, it looked really good.”