South African rugby is determined to achieve success in Europe, according to Andy Bull.
The distance between London and Pretoria is approximately 5,500 miles. This means that it takes about 11 hours to travel there, making it a completely different world for Saracens. They recently made the journey for their first match of the Champions Cup. The temperature was 5 degrees Celsius when they boarded the plane and 35 degrees Celsius when they landed. This highlights the chaotic nature of club rugby at the moment.
In the midst of concerns about player fatigue and well-being, club rugby has found itself in a situation where teams are constantly traveling between continents on a weekly basis.
Last Saturday Saracens hosted Northampton on a freezing English winter night at the StoneX Stadium, this Saturday it’s the Bulls on what is forecast to be a sweltering summer one at Loftus Versfeld. The club have given themselves a week on the ground to get used to the conditions and will need to make good use of every second of it.
The Bulls have a perfect record at home against European teams in both the United Rugby Championship and the Champions Cup. In their last five matches, they have dominated Leinster with a score of 62-7, Zebre with a score of 78-12, Scarlets with a score of 63-21, Connacht with a score of 53-27, and the Sharks with a score of 44-10. The stadium, which can hold 50,000 spectators, is located on the Highveld. With the combination of high altitude, unpredictable weather, intense atmosphere, and the Bulls’ aggressive and fast-paced playing style, it is considered one of the most difficult challenges in club rugby. The only European team to come close to defeating them in the URC was Edinburgh, who lost by just two points in September 2022.
“It’s currently 35 degrees in Pretoria with high humidity,” stated Khutha Mchunu, a prop for the Bulls, during the competition launch. He added, “This weather is very different and Saracens will definitely feel it. It’s going to be challenging for them.” Mchunu appeared to be struggling to adapt as he was wearing a thick puffer coat and a beanie hat indoors. He laughed and said, “Yes, in this competition, you have to battle not only your opponents but also the elements. One week you could be playing in the heat and humidity of Durban, and the next week it could be windy and rainy in London.”
Mchunu, 26, previously played for the Sharks but transferred during the summer. As a team, the South Africans are still adjusting to the Champions Cup. According to Mchunu, “This is only our second season in the competition, so we are still adapting.” In the previous season, the Bulls were eliminated in the round of 16 while the Sharks and Stormers made it to the quarter-finals. Mchunu explains that this experience was a valuable learning opportunity, especially for the younger players who were not familiar with the competition before joining, much like an average English person may not know much about the Currie Cup.
In the initial season, we lacked comprehension of the past, the excellence, the mystique, and the renowned individuals who have participated in this tournament.” They have gained some knowledge since then.
Mchunu stated that the Champions Cup is widely regarded as the top club competition due to its high level of competition. He mentioned that his team learned from their previous season and understands the level of dedication required to be victorious. As South Africans, they have a strong belief in their ability to win any match, but the Champions Cup presents a challenge as they face off against some of the best players in the world such as Dupont and Ntamack from Toulouse, Skelton and Danty from La Rochelle, and a multitude of international players from Leinster. Mchunu also pointed out the impressive track record of Saracens in winning multiple Premiership titles.
To clarify, our team has won six games and three Champions Cups. Mchunu explains that we have learned what it takes to win and are now determined to become the first non-European team to win the cup. This achievement would be monumental in our history. The loss in the previous tournament serves as motivation for our team, but their performance in the World Cup adds even more motivation.
“It brought a sense of pride to everyone in the nation, including us players. We are no longer just South Africans, but world champion South Africans holding the title for winning four World Cups in a row. This carries a responsibility for us to represent our country with excellence, as the success of our club teams is crucial in maintaining our status as the top rugby country in the world. The expectations that come with this title serve as motivation for us to perform at our best.” These are unusual times, but it is guaranteed to be an exciting game.