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URC final analysis: How the Bulls lost to the Stormers

Bulls players react after their loss in the URC final to the Stormers. Photo: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)

Bulls players react after their loss in the URC final to the Stormers. Photo: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Jun 20, 2022

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Cape Town - It took the Bulls just two minutes and 15 seconds to score the first points of the United Rugby Championship final against the Stormers.

Johan Grobbelaar blockbusting run off the back of a powerful maul was followed by a terrific offload with two Cape players on him to Harold Vorster, who held off three defenders to spin over and dot the ball down.

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Chris Smith booted the conversion over, and it was 7-0 to Jake White’s team. How could the Bulls lose it from there? Well, let’s look at the facts…

In the sixth minute, Zak Burger put in a perfect little chip that bounced awkwardly for the Stormers’ cover defenders Seabelo Senatla and Evan Roos, and into the hands of Arno Botha. But the Bulls flank knocked-on just inside the Stormers’ 22.

At the resultant scrum, the Stormers were awarded a penalty when it seemed like it was Steven Kitshoff who took it down under pressure from Bulls No 3 Mornay Smith.

The Stormers, though, quickly found a solution to the Bulls’ forward dominance – they played to the whistle of referee Andrew Brace. They took a few chances with their maul defence and flooded almost every breakdown, and with the referee allowing an almost free-for-all on the ground, anything was fair game for Deon Fourie and company.

In the 10th minute, Fourie could be clearly seen placing his hands on the ground beyond where Elrigh Louw had the ball, and in a quick action, he pulls his hands backwards to win the ball on the ground. Now that should’ve been a penalty to the Bulls, but Brace actually said Fourie’s “timing was good” – and Kitshoff pulled out the exact party trick a few times too.

Marcell Coetzee and his Bulls team had to fight fire with fire and find a solution on the pitch to deal with Fourie and Kitshoff, but weren’t able to.

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The Stormers were also smart in preventing the Bulls from contesting their lineouts too often as they threw to Kitshoff in the front on a few occasions.

When the Bulls did win the ball in general play, they looked to launch counter-attacks, but their execution and decision-making let them down.

Madosh Tambwe raced away and then put in a kick, which was charged-down by Seabelo Senatla into touch – perhaps an inside pass to a flying Kurt-Lee Arendse may have been a better option, while it would also have been a thrilling foot-race if his kick had stayed in-field.

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There were also a few ill-advised and poorly executed tactical kicks from Chris Smith and Zak Burger. The Bulls looked dangerous when they held on to the ball, and they kicked too much good possession away instead of asking more questions of the Stormers’ defence.

And the slippery conditions due to a short shower before kickoff shouldn’t have led to the more conservative tactics – the Bulls were outstanding on attack against Leinster in Dublin in a similar environment.

Kicking the ball out into touch instead of keeping it in-field would also have added further pressure on the Stormers lineout, as the Bulls are a good contesting team with Walt Steenkamp and Ruan Nortje.

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They should also have looked for different points-scoring options when they weren’t able to score tries from their 22-metre entries – a couple of drop goals from Smith would have added the necessary scoreboard pressure for the Stormers to chase the game.

But that didn’t happen, so when Libbok landed a penalty just on halftime, they were only four points behind, which gave them real confidence that they could snatch a victory in the second half.

After Smith extended the lead with a penalty to 10-3, Nortje dropped the subsequent kickoff, and it eventually led to Evan Roos’ try.

When the Stormers started putting a few attacking phases, the Bulls defence weren’t tight enough and allowed the ball-carriers to get well over the advantage line.

And yes, with Roos’ try, Damian Willemse should actually have been penalised for encroaching on the five-metre gap the backlines have to adhere to behind a scrum – Herschel Jantjies’ pass also looked forward, and the Stormers No 8 appeared to propel himself forward off his knees to reach out and score.

Cornal Hendricks’ yellow card in the 57th minute for a dangerous tackle on Ruhan Nel didn’t help matters either, although he was a bit unlucky as he appeared to make contact with Nel’s shoulders first before slipping up higher.

All in all, it was a game that the Bulls lost more than the Stormers won, but Dobson’s side were deserved winners for handling the big moments and surviving the first-half onslaught to take charge in the second.

@AshfakMohamed

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