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URC promised club rugby shake-up but Leinster too clever for Bulls

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

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The more things supposedly change, the more they stubbornly stay the same when it comes to Leinster and whatever the latest name of the league they play in is. They simply remain top of the class, serial winners whom the rest too often struggle to chase and compete with. You can now add the famed South African Bulls to this lengthy list of Leinster victims, Jake White’s visitors to Dublin falling 17 points behind inside 13 minutes and playing like they hadn’t got off the plane.  


Come the finish the damage was 28 points – 31-3 – following a lengthy mid-game slumber by both sides and you can only hope this round one spectacle isn’t a bad omen for this now titled United Rugby Championship. There have been so many iterations of this difficult 21-year-old child that it is impossible to keep up with all the various name changes and changed tournament formats. 

The PR fluff accompanying this latest coat of paint had promised a league “to shake the club rugby world” but if what unfolded at Lansdowne Road is a reliable gauge, we could be set for a troubling teething process before the latest revamp starts living up to the hype and the matches, especially those involving four-in-a-row champions Leinster, become more competitive.  

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Jake White talks about the significance of the Bulls taking on Leinster
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Jake White talks about the significance of the Bulls taking on Leinster

Everyone involved knows this latest remodelling has to succeed given the flakiness of what has generally preceded it, something touched on in the build-up when RugbyPass caught up with the legendary Brian O’Driscoll. 

“It has been disappointing the last few years and that is not because Leinster have had a monopoly on it and have won it as often as they have. Huge credit to them for that but I just feel that it’s been lacking quality, the games where international players are away,” he explained.

“If you look in the Premiership that is happening now as well but it doesn’t feel like their standards slip significantly which I feel that is the case in the PRO14 and we need better quality sides to come in with big reputations, with better athletes, and hopefully drive the standard… it will mean the players won’t be able to be rested like they were in the past and you will have to drive the depth of your squad an awful lot more.”


That said, we shouldn’t be all that surprised that this quickly became a damage limitation exercise for the Bulls. After all, they were embarrassed by Benetton when they last stuck their head above the European parapet for last June’s Rainbow Cup final, so they were never expected to be on a par with Leinster from the off. 

However, what was expected was that their basics would at least be sound and give them a fighting chance to make a good start and pose some new questions. Take the kick-off: it flew straight into touch from the boot of Johan Goosen. Take the resulting scrum: they coughed up a penalty. And then take the opening tries, Josh van der Flier and Andrew Porter breezing over with the defence non-existent. 

Thankfully, it didn’t immediately become a ‘can’t watch’ rout. The Bulls had a 22nd-minute penalty to clip the early Leinster margin to 14 points and they can take solace in the match remaining scoreless from there through to the 57th minute.

But then came the traditional closing Leinster flurry, subs James Tracy and Ross Byrne getting in to clinch the bonus point and leave the Bulls with plenty to think about when their tour takes in matches at Connacht, Cardiff and Edinburgh before they have a six-week break to take stock of their new surroundings and the fresh demands it is bringing.  


There was a genuine reason why White described Leinster pre-game as ‘the Barcelona of rugby’ when it comes to PRO14 rugby or whatever you want to call it. This is their playground, has been for years, and the hope can only be that these latest South African newcomers can quickly get up to speed and generate the level of competitiveness the PR fluff so gushingly promised.  


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