Bulls’ scrum performance gives Jake White hope as URC teams gear up for quarter-finals

Bulls coach Jake White hopes the Bulls go all the way and win the United Rugby Championship. Picture: Pascal Guyot / AFP

Bulls coach Jake White hopes the Bulls go all the way and win the United Rugby Championship. Picture: Pascal Guyot / AFP

Published Jun 2, 2024


From sixteen teams down to eight, with all the drama that came with an impressive final round of the United Rugby Championship, each of the five different countries involved in the Championship will have a representative that can challenge for the trophy.

While both the Welsh and Italian teams have missed out on the previous two championship versions, the performances of Benetton and the Ospreys in particular allowed them to sneak into the quarter-finals and book their spots in what should be a keenly contested quarter-final round.

The drama that unfolded, from the Lions losing in Cape Town to the Stormers, but still grabbing a losing bonus point, to the Bulls last gasp bonus point in Durban to briefly put them top of the log, to Munster’s bench saving them against Ulster provided a combination of passionate top class rugby that has become the norm in the competition.

In the end Ospreys’ bonus point win over Cardiff saw them leapfrog the Lions into eighth position, although the Sharks win in the EPCR Challenge Cup meant that they can only qualify for the Champions Cup if they win the URC from here.

The Bulls will host Benetton at Loftus Versfeld in a repeat of the Round 17 game that the Pretoria side won 56-35.

While Bulls coach White said it wasn’t the perfect performance against the Sharks, the 26-14 win was hard-fought and built on the back of a forwards performance and a front row that upstaged the World Cup-winning Sharks front row.

“Our front row was outstanding. Take nothing away, they are World Cup winners – it’s Ox and Vincent and Bongi – and what gives us confidence is that our front row can compete against what has been touted as the best front row in the world,” White beamed as he reacted.

In Dublin, Leinster’s third spot saw them get a replay of the Round 17 game against fellow Irish side Ulster, who beat them in Belfast last time out. This time, though, Leo Cullen’s side will be in Dublin and wants a massive turnout to turn it into a fortress.

The pressure is on Leinster now after their loss in the Champions’ Cup final to Toulouse as they aim to claim their first URC title.

“We will ask the fans to really go hard now next week because we will have a quarter-final down at the Aviva Stadium.

“Remember, it’s the fans that make the occasion, so hopefully we will get a big turn out there.”

Glasgow Warriors face possibly the toughest quarter-final against last season’s finalists, the Stormers, after Franco Smith’s side had to scramble to beat lowly Zebre on Friday night.

Smith hailed the Scotstoun crowd for pulling them through on a night where they were far from their best and said they needed them again this coming week against the Stormers, who themselves possess plenty of firepower.

"I think tonight they [the crowd] pulled us through. They held us responsible and the boys reacted well to the support,” Smith said.

"So it will be fantastic to have this place completely filled next week.

"I can't put my finger now on it. We'll have to discuss that and we'll get back to the review board on Monday and understand why, but I think there was a little bit of over eagerness. We all knew that there's still a chance for us by scoring a certain amount of points to still end in first.

"I think they just wanted to fix it and sometimes the public doesn't realise how much they want to rectify a loss like what happened against the Lions.

"They get a little bit nervous and edgy and then there's an execution error, so that's understandable for this week.

"We have finished the season and now a new phase of this competition starts and that obviously has a completely different look to it."

With eight teams left, the competition does take another shape. A winner-takes-all shape with no room for error.

And if the drama of the past weekend was anything to go by, it will be exceptional.

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