Long overseas tours becoming a problem for SA teams in URC, as Bulls coach Jake White seeks a solution

Bulls coach Jake White has spoken about how difficult the travelling makes it for SA sides in the United Rugby Championship. Mandatory Credit: Photo by Malcolm Mackenzie/ProSports/Shutterstock

Bulls coach Jake White has spoken about how difficult the travelling makes it for SA sides in the United Rugby Championship. Mandatory Credit: Photo by Malcolm Mackenzie/ProSports/Shutterstock

Published Nov 21, 2023


When South Africa first started entertaining thoughts of leaving Super Rugby and moving to Europe, one of the major benefits was tours wouldn’t be four weeks long.

Guess what?

The month-long trips are back, and the local franchises are already feeling the effects in the United Rugby Championship.

It is a difficult situation as the two extra weeks for the just-completed tour were designed to reduce the travelling, from three trips to Europe during a URC season to two.

More travelling ahead

The Bulls are scheduled to go up north again in March, when they will face the Dragons in Newport and Leinster in Dublin – and this is outside the Champions Cup, where they will take on Lyon in France on December 16 and Bristol in England on January 13.

As all South African teams will tell you, the fourth week of those Super Rugby tours were the most difficult, as fatigue sets in and the players cannot wait to get back home.

That probably played a role in the Bulls’ 31-23 defeat to Edinburgh on Friday night, as they made a number of unforced errors in addition to the red card received by co-captain Marcell Coetzee at the DAM Health Stadium.

They made a good fist of it in the first half for a 13-11 lead, but Coetzee was sent off for a head-to-head contact tackle on Edinburgh prop Pierre Schoeman.

And a minute later, No 8 Cameron Hanekom got a yellow card for illegally stopping an Edinburgh maul, and the hosts scored to take control of the game.

It was 14 against 14 in the closing stages when Edinburgh No 8 Viliame Mata got his yellow for a dangerous tackle on Stedman Gans, but the Pretoria outfit were unable to snatch a late victory – and they dropped down to seventh on the log from first with 15 points.

“If we want to be a great side, we’ve got to make sure that you can win every game – and that’s what we are trying to create at the Bulls. I am not saying for one minute that we are happy with 10 points on the tour, but it is tough to tour – and for four weeks as well,” White said.

“And I keep reminding you that it’s four weeks on tour ... We are going to have to see whether or not that’s the way we need to keep it going forward.

“I think it is a massive advantage for the home teams when South African sides are away for four weeks.

“One of the ‘sells’ of leaving Super Rugby is that we wouldn’t have to spend a month away from home, so I’m sure we will have to have a look at that and see what kind of toll it takes on a team to be four weeks away from home.

“I was chatting with a couple of coaches here, and some teams who fly from Italy to play the Scarlets, they are in and out on the same day.

“I don’t think people appreciate just how tough it is for South African teams to be away for four weeks, with a reduced number of players. It is a satisfactory tour, but we are obviously striving for much better.”

Raising concerns

White confirmed the Bulls were going to raise their concerns about Coetzee’s red card through the “correct channels”, as the No 6 had his knees bent for the tackle, while Schoeman also entered the contact in a low position.

In contrast, in Mata’s head-to-head contact with Gans, he was much more upright, but only got a yellow card.

Next up for the Bulls are Irish side Connacht, who beat the Sharks 13-12 in Durban at the weekend, and White may have to pick a new flyhalf and hooker at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday (5pm kick-off) as Johan Goosen (concussion) and Johan Grobbelaar (hamstring) left the field in Edinburgh.

It will also be interesting to see whether World Cup Springboks Kurt-Lee Arendse, Canan Moodie, Willie le Roux and Marco van Staden will feature, as they are set to return to training this week.