United Rugby Championship

Bulls and SA handed massive reality check as Leinster lay down URC marker

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Arno Botha is tackled by Jonny Sexton. (Bulls Rugby/Twitter)
Arno Botha is tackled by Jonny Sexton. (Bulls Rugby/Twitter)

It turns out - at least for now - that South Africa's best franchise team is nowhere near being potent enough to challenge the Celtic nations' best.

Jake White had warned that his Bulls needed to be up for their United Rugby Championship (URC) opener against Irish heavyweights Leinster and when they didn't, the result was a predictable 3-31 humbling in Dublin on Saturday evening.

This isn't an outcome that should have Loftus supporters and the broader local rugby fraternity crawling into a fetal position with despair.

It's been 18 months since SA teams have faced international opposition and, allied with the fact that their having their first taste of European conditions, it's hardly surprising that the gulf currently appears rather vast.

Also, it's important to note that Leo Cullen's Leinster are the PRO14 defending champions and have, in fact, won the last four titles before this year's formation of the URC.   

The Bulls were sucker-punched as early as the 13th minute, a period where the hosts played with such intensity and incision that they'd already established a 17-0 lead.

For the neutral, it was a joy to watch.

Winger James Lowe's typically punchy run set up an overlap before flanker Josh van der Flier disdainfully ran over Bulls fullback David Kriel to score.

They were at it again when a Bulls line-out ball went loose, leading to a kick over the top that was collected by outside centre Garry Ringrose, who then fed loosehead Andrew Porter.

It was a sequence that was to lay bare the visitors' inadequacies on the day.

The Bulls actually dominated the second quarter as they strung some decent phases together, seemingly finding a way into the contest.

But they were undone by elementary errors, particularly in terms of handling, where a try for wing Madosh Tambwe was disallowed after pivot Johan Goosen's off-load to No 8 Elrigh Louw went forward.

His wing partner, Cornal Hendricks, was denied a score when the dynamic Van der Flier dislodged the ball with the line in sight, while Louw was guilty of butchering a tap penalty with his first contact with a defender.

To add insult to injury, when turnovers put them on the back foot, they were unable to cope with Leinster's snappy and varied passing in terms of their defensive organisation.

It didn't help that veteran hooker Bismarck du Plessis had a poor day with his throw-ins, robbing the Bulls of another decent attacking platform.

The second half was generally one way traffic as Leinster, without truly taking flame, coped comfortably with opponents who just simply didn't have the nous or composure to mount any sort of comeback, scoring two more tries through hooker James Tracy from a rolling maul and replacement back Ross Byrne.

The latter's showstopper in particular was painful for South African viewers in terms of its execution, a sweeping move that featured almost a dozen hands and some brilliant use of narrow space.

Euro rugby definitely isn't inferior to Super Rugby on this evidence.

Point scorers:

Leinster - (17) 31

Tries: Josh van der Flier, Andrew Porter, James Tracy, Ross Byrne

Conversions: Jonny Sexton (4)

Penalty: Sexton

Bulls - (3) 3

Penalty: Johan Goosen

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