CAPE TOWN - It’s not every day that you see a rugby coach admit that he was outmanoeuvred by his direct opponent, but Bulls boss Jake White had to agree that Benetton's New Zealand mentor Kieran Crowley got the better of their battle in the Rainbow Cup final.
One would've expected the Bulls to stick to their all-encompassing approach that got them into Saturday's final in Treviso – forward dominance, a slick line-out, solid kicking game and strike-running from the backs.
But it looked like the Bulls moved away from that template, and it ended in tears and an embarrassing 35-8 annihilation.
White admitted that his team “didn't really want to play too much rugby in the beginning”, and that is where things started to go wrong.
Instead of holding on to possession and putting Benetton under pressure with ball-inhand, the visitors kicked the ball straight into the arms of the Italian club's backthree.
“They didn't allow us into the game, and I think we hadn't touched the ball for the first 20-odd minutes. It was difficult because we didn't really want to play too much rugby in the beginning.
“We wanted to maybe keep them in their half, and we struggled,” White said.
“Credit to them. Having looked at the game, maybe if we had caught that kick-off after it was 8-8 and got out of our half, who knows – maybe we would've been able to build some more pressure.
“We haven't lost a line-out on our tryline in any competition since we've been together.
“I suppose when you kick the ball and it doesn't go out against teams in South Africa, we probably haven't been punished as we were by their back-three.
“Their Man of the Match was their fullback, so it's hard for the fullback to be Man of the Match unless we kick the ball straight down his throat, and that's what we tended to do.”
White said that the Benetton defeat was a warning to the Sharks, Stormers and Lions of what to expect in Europe.
“It was a bit arrogant of South Africans to think we will just arrive in Italy and you beat this Italian club side, and then you get on a plane and go home,” he said.
“This is a different tournament altogether. We've been playing each other. We know everybody backwards – every coach backwards, almost every tactic backwards because that's all we've seen for about a year now.
“(Advice to SA coaches) Don't come thinking that it's the same that you are used to. There are a lot of things that are different – logistically, it's different. You always question yourself: should you have come later? Those aren't the reasons you don't pitch up.
“The lesson for all the coaches is that it's easy to do analysis every week of our domestic rugby.
“It's much more tough to do homework and analysis of teams and players you don't know.”