As the United Rugby Championship looms, we're telling you all you need to know about the four new South African teams in the league, and next up is the Vodacom Bulls.

Who are the Bulls and where do they play?

The Bulls are the most successful South African rugby team, both in Super Rugby and in the Currie Cup, and are based in Pretoria in the Gauteng province. They are one of the two South African URC sides based on the Highveld, roughly 1,300 metres above sea level.

They play their home games at the famous 52,000 seater Loftus Versfeld Stadium, named after the founder of organised rugby in Pretoria. The stadium hosted the iconic second Test between the Lions and South Africa in 2009, and was also the venue for one of the Lions meetings with the Sharks this summer.


What's their history?

The most successful South African side in Super Rugby (three titles), and leading the roll of honour in the Currie Cup (19), the Bulls are the country's standard bearers.

They sit joint-second overall in the Super Rugby roll of honour with three titles, the only South African side to ever win the competition.

Their three titles came in the space of four seasons from 2007-2010, in what was a golden period for rugby in the country. For the first of those wins in '07, a Bryan Habana try in the final play of the game saw them beat the Sharks in the first all-South African Super Rugby decider.

Habana may have been the star, but their dynasty was backed by a traditional bruising forward unit, led by the likes of Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, Pierre Spies, Gurthro Steenkamp and Pedrie Wannenburg.

Munster head coach Johann van Graan was part of the backroom team for all three of those successes, working under Heyneke Meyer and then Frans Ludeke.

The Bulls were beaten by Benetton in the final of the Rainbow Cup

Recent history would suggest they are the most formidable of the South Africa teams coming to the URC.

On top of the altitude challenge presented at Loftus Versfeld, they've been the country's leading side in recent seasons.

They finished top of the Rainbow Cup SA standings before an admittedly feeble showing in the final against Benetton, but last week's record 44-10 defeat of the Sharks in the Currie Cup final showed they've kicked on even further from their extra-time win against the same opposition in last season's decider.


Key Players

Let's start with the backrow. Only last week, the prospect of Duane Vermeulen, Marcell Coetzee and Arno Botha starting together was enough to make you either salivate or cry, depending on your allegiances.

However, Ulster swooped in to spoil the party, signing the World Cup winning Vermeulen to a contract until 2023, which will ironically fill that Coetzee left when he moved from Belfast to Pretoria at the end of last season.

Marcell Coetzee left Ulster to join the Bulls last season

There's old-school beef in the front three too. Trevor Nyakane was one of the unsung heroes of their Lions Series success, putting in dominant displays at both tight and loosehead in successive weeks, while 23-year-old hooker Johan Grobbelaar joined up with the Springbok squad at the start of the Rugby Championship, and could make his Test debut in the coming weeks.

With Grobbelaar set to be absent for the start of the season, the Bulls have opted for experience, and it doesn't get much more experienced than Bismarck du Plessis who returns to South Africa following six years at Montpellier.

The 37-year-old isn't the only of the 07 World Cup winners in the Bulls camp though, with Lion-slayer Morne Steyn (below) having returned to his home club in 2020, following seven years in France.

One man they could miss this season, however, is versatile forward Marco van Staden. The 26-year-old led the Rainbow Cup SA tackle and turnover count last season, and featured for the Springboks in their series win against the Lions, but has linked up with the Leicester Tigers this summer.

One to watch

22-year-old wing/full-back David Kriel scored a joint team-high three tries during the Rainbow Cup SA, and has established himself in the Bulls first choice back three across the last two Currie Cup campaigns.

Kriel joined from the Stormers in the summer of 2020, linking up with his younger brother Richard who is also on the books in Pretoria.


Who are the coaches?

There aren't many other coaches in the game who can boast the CV of Bulls coach Jake White.

The 57-year-old coached the Springboks from 2004 to 2007, resigning after their World Cup success that year.

Following successful periods at the Brumbies and Montpellier among others, White returned to South Africa in 2020 to become the Bulls Director of Rugby, where it has been plain-sailing thus far.

The Bulls have been the dominant force in South Africa since his return, winning Super Rugby Unlocked, two Currie Cup titles and finishing top of the Rainbow Cup SA.

Jake While (left) coached South Africa to the 2007 Rugby World Cup

Breakdown coach Nollis Marais has worked his way up through the organisation since joining in 2011, while forwards coach Russell Winter is a former South Africa 7s international who was brought in by White in 2020.

Backs coach Chris Rossouw played five times for South Africa during his career, while defence specialist Joey Mongalo is another who arrived with Jake White in 2020.


When do they play the Irish sides?

The Bulls have been given a tough start to life in the URC, travelling to defending champions Leinster on Saturday, 25 September.

White's side remain in Ireland that week, moving west across the Shannon to take on Connacht at the Sportsground six days later (Friday, 1 October).

On Saturday, 27 November they'll welcome Munster to Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria, with Munster head coach Johann van Graan bringing his team down to his old stomping ground.