Home Sport ‘Budget Bulls’ reach Champions Cup play-offs ahead of Racing 92

‘Budget Bulls’ reach Champions Cup play-offs ahead of Racing 92

293

Bulls Rugby Union president Willem Strauss made an interesting observation on a WhatsApp broadcast message that all eight URC sides had qualified, while it wasn’t the case for the French and English clubs.

Bulls' player Sibongile Novuka runs with the ball in his side’s Heineken Champions Cup Round 1 Pool A match against Lyon
Bulls’ player Sibongile Novuka runs with the ball in his side’s Heineken Champions Cup Round 1 Pool A match against Lyon, Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria, South Africa on 10 December 2022. Picture: Steve Haag Sports/INPHO/Shutterstock/BackpagePix

Cape Town – There would have been a collective sigh of relief around Pretoria on Saturday after the Bulls advanced to the Champions Cup play-offs despite losing 31-7 to Lyon in France.

But they have some serious work ahead of them this week to rectify several areas of concern ahead of Friday’s United Rugby Championship clash against the high-riding Scarlets in Llanelli.

The Bulls had an anxious wait to see what would happen in especially the Bordeaux-Gloucester encounter on Saturday, and in the end, Gloucester pulled off a 26-17 victory to claim the last qualifying spot for the round of 16 in Pool A.

They ended eighth on nine points, pushing Lyon into ninth and out, and it all resulted in the Bulls finishing seventh on 10 points. The Pretoria-based team will now face Toulouse in the next round.

It is an admirable achievement for the Bulls to make it through. Union president Willem Strauss made an interesting observation on a WhatsApp broadcast message that all eight URC sides had qualified, while it wasn’t the case for the French and English clubs.

Strauss added that a big-spending club like Racing 92 missed out on the play-offs.

“Racing Metro, who apparently just bought out Siya (Kolisi) for R17million and who pays Finn Russell €1million per year, did not make the play-offs of the Champions Cup. Their players bill is probably 400% more than ours,” Strauss wrote.

“Having reached the play-offs at our first attempt is a good achievement by the Bulls. To be serious contenders, we will obviously have to find ways to adapt to overseas conditions better, but as with everything, this will improve with more exposure to different conditions, pitches, etc.”

That improvement needs to start in Friday’s game against Scarlets, who extended their winning run to four with a 20-7 Challenge Cup victory over Bayonne in France on Saturday.

The Bulls lacked physicality, intensity and execution on attack against Lyon, with several handling errors in the freezing conditions and a 9pm kick-off time – which saw snow falling during the game – making it a nightmare for the South Africans, with Kurt-Lee Arendse’s intercept try their only touchdown.

Chris Rossouw felt that the artificial pitch contributed to the knock-ons, and was hopeful that the hybrid pitch at Scarlets would help the Bulls with their rhythm on attack.

“I think they’ve got the same pitch as the Dragons (where the Bulls won 29-14 in Newport recently), so it’s a hybrid. They put an artificial net that they push down into the ground so that the roots can grab onto that and grow, so it’s basically a grass pitch with some netting underneath,” the Bulls backline coach said.

“The pitch mustn’t be an excuse … It’s just that we need to look after the ball better in terms of presentation.

“When we played Glasgow, we had the same experience.

ALSO READ: Lions end Challenge Cup losing streak with win over Dragons

“When you play on an artificial pitch, the pitch is much more reactive – also in terms of ball control – so you will see a lot of those errors were around the ruck area. When you place the ball, it’s not as stable as when you play on grass.

“The second thing is the pressure. If you make unforced errors in terms of passing, it’s either your decision-making or some sort of delay with the breakdown, then you are not in the perfect position and that causes errors.

“South African teams in general have the same experience, so it’s something we need to find a solution to. When you come over, you have a short time to train and to adapt. But unforced errors come from pressure, decision-making¸ conditions.

“Scarlets have been on a good run over the last few games. So, this would complete our eight-week stint in which we’ve had six away. The guys are looking forward to this one, and then a little bit of a break after that.”

@ashfakmohamed

Previous articleFlawless Djokovic storms into quarters after dismantling De Minaur
Next articleProteas duty still precious to David Miller