Cape Town – “I’m just telling you that there were things tonight that we couldn’t control, and we were never going to control that. I’ve told the players that we are just going to have to put our heads down, and when those things change, we will be okay.”
That was how Bulls coach Jake White felt after seeing his team make a promising start to the United Rugby Championship final, but allow the Stormers back into the game, and the Capetonians took the initiative in the second half to clinch an 18-13 triumph on Saturday night.
The Bulls could have been out of sight by halftime already, but Harold Vorster’s try and a Chris Smith conversion was all they could post on the scoreboard.
Manie Libbok’s penalty after the hooter kept his team in the game at 7-3 down, and they grabbed a 15-10 lead with tries by Evan Roos and Andre-Hugo Venter, before Libbok’s late drop goal sealed the title.
The Bulls battled to get their attack going, and a lot of it had to do with referee Andrew Brace’s officiating. Stormers openside flank Deon Fourie – who was the Man of the Match in his 100th game – was a menace at the breakdown, but not always legally so.
The 35-year-old contested almost every tackle situation and got away with putting his hands beyond the ball before scraping it back, or not showing ‘clear daylight’ at times.
When the Bulls did the same thing on occasion, they were blown up by Brace, who was also lenient on the Stormers’ rush-defence strategy, which saw them breach the offside line without being penalised.
“There were other controllables that we couldn’t control tonight – you can work it out for yourself. I’m not going to get into it. There are a lot of things tonight that we couldn’t control. Like with the ref – he only saw what he saw, which I think at the end of the day, that’s all what you want the ref to do… he sees what he sees,” White said after the match.
“I’m repeating myself. I don’t want to get into the whole thing. I’m just telling you that there were things tonight that we couldn’t control, and we were never going to control that. I’ve told the players that we are just going to have to put our heads down, and when those things change, we will be okay.
“From a rugby point of view, I think we should’ve been up more at halftime. I think we had so much territory there and didn’t finish. And as I said, the referee saw what he saw, and I’m happy with that. He saw certain things on the field and he blew it like that, and I’m happy with that.
“But this hurts a bit, I must tell you guys. It hurts… I get the feeling that we were never going to… we were out of it the whole time, for little things.”
White was reluctant on Fourie’s performance directly, but spelled out his unhappiness with some of the referee’s decisions.
“I’m going to be honest with you: I didn’t even watch that contest. He’s a good player… I thought Elrigh played well, I thought Arno played well. I think when you are a coach, you don’t really look at the opposition. You basically just look at your own team. And it wasn’t just him (Fourie), it was Kitsie (Steven Kitshoff) as well. Kitsie was outstanding at the breakdown too,” the Bulls director of rugby said.
“You don’t want to sound like a whinger – I’ve got to teach my players to be humble when we lose – I sit here and I don’t want to be a whinger… There were a couple of times that they went for the ball and they missed it, and they came back and got it again, and got rewarded.
“Now that’s fine if the referee sees that, and that’s great. But I’m repeating myself: I don’t think you guys are understanding. There were other things I couldn’t control, that I am never going to be able to control. If I can control those things, then we will win. But I can’t control those things now… not from the Bulls.”
When asked if there was anything the Stormers did well to get onto the right side of Brace’s whistle, White said: “I thought the referee was outstanding! I thought the referee was outstanding. I thought what he saw, he blew – I’m happy. You can never argue with the referee. You see it, you blow it – no problem.
“They kept building pressure, and the game was never going to go away from them. I’m saying today that – 15-12 Leicester against Saracens (in the English Premiership final on Saturday), last week was 17-15 (for the Stormers against Ulster) and it was won at the end.
“They just kept building pressure, and the longer that pressure lasted and certain things we couldn’t control took, the game got away from us.
“I’m just saying right before halftime, they got into our half and they got a penalty for offsides – we got into their half about six times and never got a penalty for offsides… So, we can’t control those things.”