Vodacom Bulls forwards coach Russell Winter labelled the Heineken Champions Cup “the elite of world rugby” after the South African side scraped into the Round of 16.

Vodacom Bulls finished seventh of the eight qualifiers from Pool A, meaning they have to travel to five-time champions Stade Toulousain in the first of the knockout stages.

“We’re learning that the Champions Cup is actually the elite of world rugby,” Winter commented. “If you’re not dominant up front, you’ve got no chance. If you don’t front up, it’s going to be a long day.

“That expansive play that you look to play in Super Rugby is more difficult in the snow and wet. The pack needs to be strong and it’s attritional. It’s difficult.

“Some of the guys had never seen snow before this week. But we’re blessed to be doing this. We’re blessed to be here.”

The South African outfit slumped 31-7 at Lyon in their final pool stage game and assistant coach Chris Rossouw acknowledged their first tie in France was a shock to their system. “A French team playing at home is completely different,” he said.

“We conceded too many penalties, which put us under pressure. We were penalised 11 times in the first half, but we were much better in the second half, with just five penalties, and that showed on the scoreboard.

“It was a tough one and we need to learn from it. The way we pulled back in the second half showed we did learn. It showed we could manage the extremely cold conditions and stand our ground.

“There were a lot of positives and this experience will help the team over time. It’s extremely difficult to win in France. You are tested on a few levels. You need to manage the game well, be tight in discipline and take your opportunities.”