Bulls ready for SA factor in Munster challenge
INTERVIEW: After a challenging European tour – with just one win from four outings – the Bulls are looking to make home ground advantage count when they host Irish province Munster at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
Their start in the URC was less than satisfactory, with losses to two Irish teams – Leinster (3-31) and Connacht (7-34).
Now they get to measure themselves against the two-time European champion Munster outfit.
Former Munster loose forward Arno Botha said they are keen to make amends for their poor start to their European campaign.
“We are the top team in South Africa,” Botha said about being back-to-back Currie Cup champions, adding: “We are now looking to see how we can compete with them on our home turf.
“It is a challenge we are looking forward to,” he told a virtual media briefing in the build-up to the first of two home games.
Having had a short stint with London Irish (in 2018), before moving to Munster that same year (capped 43 times by the Irish province), he still counts a number of the visitors as ‘friends’.
“It is good to catch up with them,” he said, adding that any friendly exchanges will wait till after the game.
* (Continue below ...)
The 30-year-old Botha expects a fierce challenge from Munster, who has “great depth”.
He spoke about their kicking game and physicality at the breakdown as aspects to be alert to.
“We don’t expect them to just go through the motions, we will have to work hard,” he said of the qualities he expects Munster to bring.
It is the South African factor – both in terms of coaching staff and playing resources – that will make this such an intriguing game.
There is head coach Johann van Graan (a former Bulls and Springbok assistant coach and defence mastermind JP Ferreira, who was at the heart of the Lions’ prosperous period in Super Rugby (also a product of Pretoria Boys High and the University of Pretoria.
Thrown in Wallaby legend Stephen Larkham and England great Graham Rowntree, then you begin to understand the coaching IP that can trouble the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
“They have put a great structure in place,” he said of the South African influence in the coaching set-up.
He said it is “no secret” the brand of rugby Munster plays has strong South African undercurrents.
“They like to maul,” Botha said, adding: “When I was there the mauls was a big focus point. They also like to contest the breakdown.
“We, in South Africa, are good at mauling and we like to contest the breakdown.”
He added that Larkham’s presence ensures they have “some balance” and options.
Even without their Ireland contingent – Joey Carbery, Conor Murray, Tadhg Beirne, Peter O’Mahony, Craig Casey and Keith Earls – Botha believes they have enough depth.
In Jean Kleyn, Jason Jenkins and Chris Cloete they have enough South African experience in the playing roster.
“Their entire front row has international experience,” Botha said.
“[Captain] Jack [O’Donoghue] is capped by Ireland, as [utility forward] Gavin Coombes.
“Rory [Scannell], [Simon] Zebo and Mike Haley adds experience to the backs.
“We’ll have to be on top of our game on the day.”
There will be a limited number of spectators at Loftus on Saturday, with a cap of 2,000 vaccinated members of the public allowed entry.
“It would be great of we can have full stadiums, like in Europe, but we are still looking forward to having some spectators at Loftus.”
Munster, after facing the Bulls in Pretoria this coming Saturday, travel down the M1 to Johannesburg for a clash with the Lions a week later, December 4.
Backs: Neil Cronin, Paddy Patterson, Jack Crowley, Jake Flannery, Ben Healy, Liam Coombes, Dan Goggin, Rory Scannell, Shane Daly, Seán French, Simon Zebo, Matt Gallagher, Mike Haley.
Forwards: Jeremy Loughman, Liam O’Connor, Josh Wycherley, Diarmuid Barron, Kevin O’Byrne, Niall Scannell, Stephen Archer, Keynan Knox, John Ryan, Thomas Ahern, Jean Kleyn, Fineen Wycherley, Cian Hurley, Jason Jenkins, Chris Cloete, Jack Daly, Alex Kendellen, Jack O’Donoghue (captain), Jack O’Sullivan, Gavin Coombes.