Johannesburg — The Bulls will have the toughest assignment of them all when the men from Pretoria start their preparation for an almighty clash against French Top 14 heavyweights Toulouse, at the beginning of April in the Champions Cup Round of 16.
That is the belief of former Springbok Stefan Terblanche, who revealed his thoughts in a United Rugby Championship statement on Monday.
“That’s a heavyweight team for the Bulls to face,” said Terblanche.
“They are the most successful team in this competition, and it will be very hard for the Bulls to go there and win that game. The conditions up north at the end of March will still play a role.
“I think that’s one thing South African supporters need to understand, that these northern hemisphere teams are incredible competitors, especially at home. They are well coached and have a great supporter base in Europe.
“Every match against them is hard work.”
The Bulls are set to play the mighty French club on April 2, while the Sharks and Stormers will have an easier route to the quarter-finals as they host Munster and Harlequins, respectively, a day earlier.
Terblanche, who played for both Ospreys and Ulster during the 2000s, is also highly impressed with the way the South African franchises have applied themselves in both the URC and European Professional Club Rugby tournaments.
“In general South African teams like to be the underdog,” he said.
“Very few South African teams like to go into games with everything going their way and being complete favourites to win. They certainly like a challenge.
“South African teams are used to having significant challenges when it comes to logistics and travelling, and I think they’ve all handled it really well so far. I’m delighted for all three teams,” Terblanche said, with specific reference to the Bulls, Sharks and Stormers.
“The weather change is a massive difference, and our players are also still getting used to playing on synthetic pitches up north. It’s huge and another whole new experience they need to prepare themselves for, but we always knew this was going to be the case.
“A few of our results up north could be better, but all of our teams are still playing some decent rugby up there. For three out of three SA teams to go through to the last 16 of the Champions Cup is a pretty decent result.”
With the Six Nations starting this weekend, the URC will go on a two-week break as Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales prepare for that tournament. The Sharks, however, will host the Stormers at Kings Park for a URC clash that could have a significant impact on the tournament’s standings.
The Lions and Bulls, meanwhile, will enjoy the weekend off after a tough schedule during the last two months. The Gauteng-based franchises will return to action in mid-February when the Lions host the Sharks and the Stormers travel to Loftus to face the Bulls.
The Lions will also participate in the Round of 16 of the Challenge Cup when they welcome Racing 92 to Ellis Park on April 1, while the Free State Cheetahs must travel to the south of France to face Toulon.
The franchises have a busy few months on the horizon, their URC and EPCR commitments notwithstanding. Monday, SA Rugby confirmed that the 2023 Currie Cup Premier Division will kick off on March 10.
The Pumas will defend their title in an expanded tournament over double rounds against the Bulls, Cheetahs, Griffons, Griquas, Lions, Sharks and Western Province. The lower league First Division, meanwhile, starts next weekend.