Bulls coach Jake White confident supporters will buy into the Champions Cup

19 January 2024 - 15:00
By Mahlatse Mphahlele
Bulls coach Jake White says South African supporters will warm up to the Champions Cup which boasts some of the best teams and players in the world.
Image: Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images Bulls coach Jake White says South African supporters will warm up to the Champions Cup which boasts some of the best teams and players in the world.

Bulls coach Jake White says rugby supporters will eventually fully understand and warm up to the Champions Cup. 

Support at Loftus has not been the best during the premier tournament which may be the result of confusion caused by the Champions Cup playing concurrently with the United Rugby Championship (URC) where teams largely use different players.

Speaking as the Bulls prepared to take on French side Bordeaux Bègles at Loftus on Saturday, White said South Africans also took time to buy into the concept of Super Rugby which became a roaring success. 

“It will pick up, when Super Rugby started the format changed a bit. I heard from a fanatical Free State fan who wanted to know why the Cheetahs are playing in Amsterdam.

“If he is a rugby guy but he doesn’t understand why his team is playing in Amsterdam, what is the likelihood that an average supporter in South Africa will understand what is happening with the Champions Cup and URC?  

“Supporters are asking themselves why one week this team is playing and next week that team is playing. All I can say is when they get it, they will understand the best clubs in rugby come together and play in the Champions Cup.

“I am sure people will understand that Champions Cup rugby is where the best 24 teams in the world play against each other. Therefore, every guy aspires to be tested at that level, every boy in South Africa wants to be a Springbok, but the next level of where he is going to be tested against international players is in the Champions Cup. 

“Free State are trying their hardest to come out of the Challenge Cup and into the Champions Cup and teams that are playing in the URC are fighting their lives to make sure they finish in the top eight to qualify for the Champions Cup. 

“There are so many things at play, but supporters will eventually get to understand. It is sad when you play a team here and they have 10 or 15 internationals but the stadium is not full. 

“That is almost like a Test match, but you don’t fill the stadium. I spoke about our game against Saracens recently; you have Owen Farrell who has played more than 100 times for his country. 

“He is the captain of England, he has played in two World Cups and he is not just an average rugby player. Maro Itoje and Jamie George are in the same category. 

“You would think having gone through what we [did] with a shortage of international sport, when we get these big games and teams everyone will be excited and want to watch those players,” said White. 

“It will happen. I was part of Super Rugby from 1996 when I was at the Lions and it was the same thing. People did not understand why you play four games on tour and they only play one or two here. 

“When it takes off and the public understand that the best players in South Africa are going to play the best of other countries, I have no doubt there will be a buy in.” 

Bulls Squad: 1. Gerhard Steenekamp, 2. Jan-Hendrik Wessels, 3. Mornay Smith, 4. Reinhardt Ludwig, 5. Ruan Nortje (c), 6. Marcell Coetzee (c), 7. Mpilo Gumede, 8. Cameron Hanekom, 9. Embrose Papier, 10. Johan Goosen, 11. Devon Williams, 12. David Kriel, 13. Stedman Gans, 14. Sebastian de Klerk, 15. Willie le Roux

Substitutes: 16. Simphiwe Matanzima, 17. Akker van der Merwe, 18. Khutha Mchunu, 19. JF van Heerden, 20. Elrigh Louw, 21. Keagan Johannes, 22. Jaco van der Walt, 23. Cornal Hendricks