CAPE TOWN - The Bulls’ clash against the Stormers on Friday night was a game to remember – no lightweight jabs were thrown.
Instead, it was two heavyweight boxers dishing out the big right hands and left hands, and in the end, it was the men from Pretoria who landed the knockout punch in the last movement of the match, when Ruan Nortjé scored the winning try.
Despite a number of errors and questionable decision-making from both teams, it was a tense and thrilling contest right up to the final whistle.
And even though his team are now within touching distance of reaching the Rainbow Cup final in Italy on June 19, 57-year-old Bulls boss Jake White admits that he did “age” a bit as he watched his team claw their way back from 17-7 down to win 31-27, putting them seven points ahead of the Stormers.
Only the Sharks can keep the SA competition alive for another week, by beating the Lions at Ellis Park on Saturday (4pm kickoff).
“You don’t want to win games like that, but in saying that, I am really, really proud. The boys stuck at it. There were a lot of opportunities – I think there were four tries disallowed,” White said at the post-match press conference.
“At one stage, we had made 20 tackles and they had made something like 115-120 tackles in the first half, so we made it hard for ourselves.
“But I said before the game that the Stormers a really good team – lots of Springboks all over the field, coaching staff have been together for about six years and coached a lot of these players at junior level. I have aged, but I am really chuffed that we got the result.”
The scrum was the one main area of concern for the Bulls going into the game, but they countered the powerful Stormers front row by clearing the ball quickly from the set-piece. White, though, would be concerned that their lineout fell apart in the last quarter, where they lost three of their own feeds in a row – especially as they scored two maul tries by hooker Johan Grobbelaar when they did get it right.
“I said in the week that we will sort the scrum out, and I thought the way we managed the scrum, we took away all their power by going to channel one and getting the ball out quickly. So, we didn’t have situations where the ref could make the call – with those 50-50 calls. Or when they could really give us some scrum power,” the former Bok coach said.
“I thought we moved them around quite nicely, so they weren’t quite sure when we were going to have a go, or when we were going to move the ball away. Credit to the coaching staff, because it’s another string to our bow.”
It was absolute devastation for Stormers coach John Dobson and his team after coming so close to ending the Bulls’ unbeaten run under White.
Dobson bemoaned the high penalty count against the Capetonians, and felt that a tackle count of well over 200 eventually took its toll.
“You could say we showed some character, but it’s pretty much a heartbroken change room. We are just very disappointed that we couldn’t close it out. We had a scrum there (with about three minutes left), and if we had got that scrum, we probably would’ve closed it out. We got ourselves on the wrong arm of the law today, and paid the price for it,” he said.
“We wanted to have more ball, but I don’t know what the penalty count was in the end. We talked the whole week about penalties in the middle third of the field, which gives them entries into the 22, and we did exactly what we didn’t want to do in that respect.
“People are seeing the signs of what we want to do on attack – I don’t think we were at our territorial best today. We tackled very well, and made something like 250 tackles, which is a lot of character up there at altitude. Pleased with those aspects, but not the result – it’s devastating.”