- In part two of an exclusive interview, former Springbok scrumhalf Neil de Kock talks about the Bulls’ imminent first round challenge against Leinster in the United Rugby Championship.
- The ex-Stormers ace explains why he would have relished tackling some of the best northern hemisphere sides in the URC and how the South African players must embrace the pressure.
- The former Saracens stalwart also unpacks his concerns regarding the workload on players from both a training and playing front and the rotation policy the north London club utilised.
The Bulls, who claimed back-to-back Currie Cup titles, will have the distinct honour of being the first of the big four South African franchises to face Leinster in Dublin.
Leinster have dominated PRO rugby and have been dubbed the 'Crusaders of the north' in reference to their title-winning exploits.
"I think it's a fair description," De Kock tells Sport24 in the second part of an exclusive interview. "Leinster have been the front-runners in the competition for a long time and like the Crusaders, who have dominated Super Rugby, they are a big game team. Speaking from experience, having faced them when I was with Saracens, when you play Leinster you know you are coming up against a team that is calm under pressure with an inner-belief they have a very good chance of turning you over."
Jake White's charges tackle Leinster on Saturday, 25 September at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Having been soundly beaten by Italy's Benetton Treviso in the Rainbow Cup final in June, the Bulls can set the right tone for their campaign by defeating the much-vaunted Irish side away from home.
Leinster have won the domestic league seven times - four of which were consecutive PRO14 titles - and they also enjoyed a 26-game unbeaten streak before it was ended by their Irish rivals Connacht.
"As a player, I would love to have Leinster first up in the group stages," says the Saracens double centurion. "From personal experience, to go over and play Leinster on their home patch is special is because there are few places in rugby that are better. I think the South African franchises would love the opportunity to play Leinster and hopefully they embrace the challenge head on. To be honest, I would much rather take on Leinster in Dublin than one of the less-fancied teams on their own turf."
The Bulls have announced their 37-man squad for the four-match tour of Europe, and while they will be without a number of players doing duty in the Rugby Championship, they appear to boast the best strength in depth, with new signing Bismarck du Plessis named in the party. However, with top South African players potentially featuring in as many as 40 matches in 2021, De Kock stresses that training and match loads need to be carefully managed in order to avoid burnout and serious injury.
"There are restrictions on international players and how many matches and minutes they play but the same needs to be done for local club players," says the ex-Stormers scrumhalf. "There needs to be a cap on how many minutes they play each season and comes down to the point of less is more.
"For me, my maximum was 33 games a season in order to perform at peak. I couldn't have imagined playing 40 matches a season for Saracens - that would have been crazy! You are expected to train all week, have an element of contact during that period and then have a massive bust-up on the weekend. To do that 40 times a season is asking a lot and needs to be carefully managed otherwise teams are going to be churning out players and, at some stage, there will be some serious injuries to be considered," says De Kock, who called time on his playing career four years ago at the age of 38.
The United Rugby Championship, which runs from September to June, is a gruelling 18-round competition which will traverse both the northern and southern hemispheres and test the South African franchises who will be without their Springboks for a large chunk of the newly-formed event.
"We can't let these competitions run away with us and expect the players to turn up and perform. The rotational policy at Saracens really helped because it cut down on the actual game time. However, whether you are playing 30 or 50 minutes there is no guarantee that you’re not going to get injured but loads - both training and match - are generally managed well these days,” he notes.
"Modern players are also very well monitored from Monday to Friday and their running metres per minute and how many impacts they are taking is tracked by GPS devices... All those people in the position to make the game safer are doing a great job. Restrictions have already been put in place in terms of game time and head injuries but we must keep our finger on the pulse," De Kock concludes.
Friday, 24 September
Zebre v Lions (18:35)
Ulster v Glasgow Warriors (20:35)
Cardiff v Connacht (20:35)
Saturday, 25 September
Benetton v Stormers (14:00)
Leinster v Bulls (18:15)
Edinburgh v Scarlets (18:15)
Munster v Sharks (20:35)
Sunday, 26 September
Dragons v Ospreys (15:00)