Vodacom Bulls boss Jake White has been giving his players a crash course in the Heineken Champions Cup as his Vodacom United Rugby Championship high-fliers prepare for their European debut.
White, who guided the Springboks to World Cup glory in 2007, knows all about the Champions Cup from the three years he spent in charge of French club Montpellier.
Now he is taking the Vodacom Bulls on a ground-breaking Euro adventure as they embark on home and away group matches against Lyon and Exeter.
“Having coached at Montpellier, I know how tough the Champions Cup is,” said the 58-year-old from Johannesburg.
“From the point of view of young players and supporters here, there’s probably a little bit of naivety about just how intense the competition is.
“If you look at the kind of teams that come running out every weekend, there’s virtually a Test international in every position, plus the bench, whether it’s a South African or a Kiwi or a Samoan or a Fijian.
“We are a long way off from that. We don’t have Springboks in every position. It’s not across the board with an international in every position like with the overseas sides. Generally the depth of those teams is much stronger than the South African teams.
“I have tried really hard in the last couple of weeks to explain to our players how tough this competition is. I have explained to them how seriously these teams take it and how physical it is. You can play against a pack that weighs 1,000 kgs and that’s just completely different to what we normally experience.
“Once it gets going, with the games on TV, I think the whole public here will understand the enormity of it. A lot of our supporters have watched the likes of Clermont, Racing, Toulouse, La Rochelle and all the top sides play. We obviously see Leinster and those sides in the Vodacom URC.
“But when you see Clermont on fire at home and you see a rampant Toulouse cut you apart or you see how good Saracens can be when they have all their internationals, I am thinking after next weekend there will be a massive mind-shift from the average supporter that will see it is just another level.
The Vodacom Bulls launch their Champions Cup campaign at home to French club Lyon at Pretoria’s Loftus Versfeld on Saturday evening. They warmed up for that Euro debut by beating Cardiff 45-9 to move up to second place in the Vodacom URC, pulling away after leading 17-9 at the break.
“In the first half, we had a lot of slow ball and struggled to get any rhythm. Cardiff are a good side and they started well. They attacked our breakdown heavily and were really hard on the ball every time we went to ground,” said White.
“The message for the second half was to stay up longer in the contact, make sure you buy some yards and don’t go to ground too early and we got the rewards.
“Cardiff have beaten two South African sides this season, the DHL Stormers and the Cell C Sharks. Let’s not forget they also beat Munster in the first round. So they have had three really big scalps this season.
“So for us to have a five point win against them is a massive swing in the competition. It was obviously a pleasing result to win with six tries and not concede one. There’s a lot of positives we can take out of that.”