VIDEO: Bulls are 'champions' not just competitors
The Bulls will have to think on their feet, literally, if they are to claim a first franchise title for South Africa in more than a decade.
The three-time Super Rugby champions will hope to be the first SA team to win a competition in Europe when they face Benetton in the Rainbow Cup Final in Treviso on Saturday.
Speaking to the media from the team’s base in Italy, captain Marcell Coetzee spoke about the ‘excitement’ in the camp ahead of Saturday’s showpiece.
He added that the Bulls remain “hungry for success”, despite having already won several titles in the last 12 months – Super Rugby Unlocked, Currie Cup, Preparation series and the Rainbow Cup SA conference, which earned them their spot in the Final.
It would be the first time since the Bulls’ three Super Rugby titles (2007, 2009 & 2010) that a South African team wins an ‘international’ competition.
Coetzee said their focus remains on the Final and they have studied their Italian opponents – whom he described as having been playing “incredible” rugby.
The Bulls captain said there is great energy in the camp, dismissing the notion that they are “on holiday” and said they have a job to do.
He added that the key will be the ability to adapt on matchday, given that they arrived in Treviso on Tuesday and don’t have much preparation time remaining.
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“The difference between a competitor and a champion is the ability to adapt,” Coetzee said in the virtual media briefing.
“Every player has to take ownership of his role and do his job.”
He said the Director of Rugby, Jake White, keeps reminding them of what is at stake and what is required to win the game.
“In a Final, it is 50-50 and with such small margins you don’t want to make a mistake that can cost you a Final.”
And they also have to deal with an opponent that is far more formidable than what most South Africans would give them credit for.
“They play a high-tempo game,” Coetzee said.
“They also play a distribution game,” adding that the Bulls will have to adjust very quickly to what is presented to them on the day.
He pointed to the drastic change in conditions – from a frosty South African winter to the middle of the European summer, with temperatures soaring from the high 20s to the low 30s – with Saturday predicted to be ‘hot with plenty of sunshine’ and caution against doing strenuous activities outside, reaching a high of 33° centigrade.
“We have to ensure we get our structure right and be accurate,” the skipper said.
“They have a very good set-piece platform, which they thrive on.”
Coetzee pointed to the Treviso-based team’s 46-19 upset win over Glasgow Warriors, which turned the season around.
“They have changed a lot since I played against them a few seasons ago,” the Bulls captain said, adding: “They have improved as a team and brought in individuals that have made a huge difference.”
The skipper said it will require a “team effort” to overcome the challenge against a tricky opponent.
While the Bulls have the benefit of having played in a number of bruising South African derbies, he expects their Italian rivals to have done their homework.
Benetton also has a strong South African connection, which will also assist the hosts.
“They do have a couple of former Bulls players in their set-up, so they will be aware of what we are bringing to the contest,” Coetzee said.
“We have to keep doing what we have done well so far and stick with the style that got us to the Final.”
The Treviso outfit is being captained by former Stormers and South Africa ‘A’ team scrumhalf Dewaldt Duvenage – who has almost 150 games for Western Province and the Stormers to his credit, 70-odd games for French outfit Perpignan and more than 50 games for Benetton since his arrival in 2018.
Former Bulls lock Irné Herbst, who also had a season with the Southern Kings, has featured in 70-odd games for the Treviso team since his arrival in Italy in 2017.
Hooker Corniel Els made 40-off appearances for the Bulls before joining Benetton this year.
And then there is veteran Italian international Braam Steyn – born in Cradock in the Eastern Cape and schooled at Paul Roos in Stellenbosch, who started out at the Sharks before moving to Italy in 2012.
There are a number of other Italian Test players, with a South African, Marius Goosen, as Director of Rugby and an All Black, Kieran Crowley, as the coach.