Jake White balances optimism with realism for SA teams in European competitions

Jake White balances optimism with realism for SA teams in European competitions

Bulls Director of Rugby Jake White is both cautious and optimistic as he assesses South African teams' chances of achieving success in the Champions and Challenge Cups.

All five SA sides advanced to the knockout stages with the Bulls and the Stormers securing home playoffs in the Investec Champions Cup whilst the Sharks, Cheetahs and Lions all qualified for the Challenge Cup playoffs.

This is an encouraging sign for the teams who are only in their second year of competing in Europe alongside the United Rugby Championship. However, White warns things will get significantly more difficult.

White has solid experience in the tournament from his time in Montpellier and expects the big teams to bring forward their front-line players taking them to a "different level".

"There is belief, but I want people in South Africa and supporters to understand that the big guns are coming now," White said.

"When the likes of La Rochelle, Toulouse, and Leinster bring out their players, you start comparing the number of internationals on each side.

"You're now pitting youngsters who are still growing, but sport is an amazing thing, and there's a reason why people follow sport around the world," White added. "They do so for the reason that on the day that a team that isn't supposed to win ends up winning. Hopefully, our belief will grow and we get better, but I'm also a realist, as we saw with last week's games that were on a different level.

"It's club rugby on steroids."

The Bulls host Lyon who were also in their pool during the early stages of the competition. This was consistent through the draw as several games from the pool stage are being repeated in the round-of-16.

The first round of knockouts is only on the first weekend of April so for now the Bulls turn their attention to a local derby against a gritty Lions side in the URC.

Bulls skipper Marcell Coetzee is expecting a gruelling battle at the weekend and insists his side will be on guard against complacency.

"Local derbies are always tough and physical. It's personal," Coetzee said. "Playing European teams is one thing, but we in South Africa are proud people. We want to go out on the field and give our best, because of the respect we have for each other.

"I'm sure this weekend won't be any different. What we've learned in this competition is that you can't start off well and then hit a slump of form and try to recover from that.

"The big one is not to be complacent. If you look at the statistics, we lost here the last time we played them."

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