Cape Town – While the Bulls battled to build multi-phase attacks against Edinburgh, coach Jake White feels that his team must persevere with their ball-in-hand approach in the United Rugby Championship.
The Pretoria side have conceded a number of breakdown penalties on their four-match European trip, which was completed with a 17-10 defeat at the DAM Health Stadium in Edinburgh on Saturday night.
Following losses to Irish sides Leinster and Connacht, the Bulls roared back with a superb second-half display to beat Cardiff 29-19, but they came up short in Scotland.
They were virtually blown off the park by Welsh referee Ben Whitehouse, who seldom penalised Edinburgh for not releasing the tackled player, i.e. ‘daylight’ at the breakdowns. That resulted in the Bulls almost inevitably giving up possession after a few carries.
But with a long competition still to go, White wants his players to rather play to the whistle.
“We’ve been speaking about this for four weeks, since we got here – it’s about adapting to the referee. It’s about understanding it’s a very different competition… you don’t get given anything here,” White said during the post-match press conference on Saturday night.
“So, to be fair, we did get rewarded a few times with Bismarck (du Plessis) – I thought he was really good at the breakdown tonight as well. So, I suppose you take the good with the bad.
“I just think we couldn’t get our hands on the ball. When we did keep it just before halftime, we looked like scoring, and got some great gain-line. At the end there, we kept the ball for phase-after-phase, and it shows that we’ve got to trust the fact that we want to play.
“It was difficult. What happened there is that we weren’t getting any joy at the breakdown. Every time we carried the ball two phases, we generally got it turned over or gave a penalty away.
“So, it felt like at times that we were sort of getting strangled by playing (attacking). Typically, the naivety and inexperience is then like a Catch-22, because you know you’ve got to keep playing to win, but you also know that you are not getting any joy by going for two-three phases, because you are turning the ball over.”
The Bulls were trailing 14-3 at halftime, but played with greater intensity in the second half, and were rewarded for their efforts when captain Marcell Coetzee barged over for a try in the 70th minute.
But as White mentioned, they failed to catch the resultant kickoff, and Edinburgh engineered another penalty that saw centre Mark Bennett stretch the lead to seven points.
Wing Madosh Tambwe was unlucky not to be awarded a try after that, with Whitehouse ruling that the No 14 had made a double movement in placing the ball over the line.
White, though, said that the Bulls showed enough encouraging signs to emerge victorious on home soil. They will take on Munster (November 27) and Scarlets (December 3) at Loftus Versfeld after a few weeks off.
“We are still putting the building blocks together. It doesn’t mean that the players who are there aren’t good enough. It’s something that we have to work on. The only way we are going to learn is to keep putting them in those situations and finding ways that they can handle those pressure situations,” the former Bok coach said.
“So, I don’t want to sound like everything is doom and gloom. I’m not happy that we lost this game, and I am not happy that we gave them a 14-point start, but gee – a try-saving tackle on Lionel Mapoe’s jersey in the last play of the game… otherwise we score and it’s 17-all.
“The Stormers came here last week and had a 20-all draw, so it shows you that it’s not an easy place to come and play, and it’s not an easy competition to get away wins.
“You are going to have to work really hard. We are going to have to make sure that when people come to Loftus, we have to make sure it’s exactly the same for visiting teams.”