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WATCH: Bulls wary of Cape Town Stadium pitch, but pleased with neutral referee for URC final

Published Jun 17, 2022

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Cape Town — The sandy surface at the Cape Town Stadium actually hampers the Stormers’ scrum. That was the view of Bulls coach Jake White ahead of Saturday’s United Rugby Championship final (7.30pm kickoff).

A capacity 31 000 crowd will hope for a spectacle from the two traditional South African rivals, but one of the main battles could be spoilt by the pitch.

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Originally built for the 2010 Fifa World Cup, it wasn’t made for rugby matches, and when 16 forwards gather to shove each other around in the scrums, the grass takes a beating.

Sandy molehills are evident after almost every set-piece, so the respective front row’s footing will be heavily affected in trying to put the pressure on the opposition.

The Stormers trio of Steven Kitshoff, JJ Kotze and Frans Malherbe are expected to have the edge over Bulls big men Gerhard Steenekamp, Johan Grobbelaar and Mornay Smith, but White is not so sure.

“I just feel that the turf at Cape Town Stadium is not conducive to scrumming. I know the Stormers have spoken a lot about the fact that they’ve got a great scrum and have two World Cup-winning props,” the former Bok coach said on Friday.

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“That’s fine, but I don’t think the surface here gives them the bonuses that they should get, because I just think a surface that breaks up quickly — it takes the contest of the scrum away. I’d hate to lose if a scrum collapses and the perception is that the two Springbok front-rankers could never have done anything wrong…

“I’ve seen them slip. Of the last 80 scrums on this field, there have been 23 resets, against all different teams. Unfortunately, their surface doesn’t allow them to play to one of their strengths, which is having two Springbok props.

“You can’t therefore say that one team is scrumming illegally or the other team… Out of 80 scrums, 23 were collapsed — something isn’t right.

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“I think we have scrummed really well. One of the stats is that we have the highest amount of scrum penalties in our favour as well. It’s one of those areas where I wouldn’t want a result because of a perception that one person had caused it to collapse, and that team ends up losing.”

Referee Andrew Brace — who operates under the auspices of the Irish Rugby Football Union — celebrated his 34th birthday this week, but the scrums and breakdown won’t be a cakewalk for the former Belgian international.

It was somewhat surprising that the URC organisers didn’t appoint a South African for a local derby, but White was in favour of that decision.

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“I’m very happy that it’s a northern-hemisphere referee. I say that because I think we want neutrality. Every coach wanted neutrality in the whole competition. When we went overseas and we didn’t get any… I remember when everybody was complaining about the fact that there’s no neutrality in the game,” White said.

“Andrew Brace is an international ref — he’s reffed Six Nations. I think refs themselves would like to ref the final. Refs themselves have prepared the whole year to be at their best to get these sorts of games, and I found Andrew Brace is one of the better referees we’ve had.

“I thought a couple of the overseas guys have been fantastic as well. I think he’s interpretations — we’ve done some work on him, and the way he blows the game is the way you’ve got to adapt. And the team that adapts the quickest, and understands, and have done their homework, will come out (on top) at the end.

“This is not a thing we just started last week. We’ve been together for two years, and this is the game that we wanted to be part of. South African touch judges and TMO on merit — you’ve got a guy like Peyper, who’s a great referee, and Marius is going to be at the World Cup as a TMO as well.

“We’ve done really well when we’ve had northern-hemisphere referees ref us in all the other games, so we’ve probably adapted very well to the way the northern-hemisphere referees want to ref.”

@ashfakmohamed

IOL Sport

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