Cape Town – Despite a couple of contentious decisions that went against the Bulls, coach Jake White said that he was “not going to moan about the referee” following the 23-19 defeat to the Stormers on Saturday night.
It was the fifth loss in a row for the Pretoria side against the Capetonians in the United Rugby Championship, and all but ended the Bulls’ hopes of winning the South African Shield, as they are now 13 points behind the Stormers, with four league matches left.
The Bulls burst into a 12-3 lead within 25 minutes via Chris Smith’s four penalties, but then allowed the Stormers back into the game as the visitors scored through No 8 Marcel Theunissen before halftime, and then replacement flank Junior Pokomela crossed the whitewash in the 51st minute.
Bulls wing Sbu Nkosi’s touchdown with 15 minutes left made it a one-point game at 20-19, but a Manie Libbok drop goal and some inspirational defence after the hooter saw the Stormers hold on for victory in front of a 41 000-plus crowd at Loftus Versfeld.
The home fans, though, might have been aggrieved with some of referee Marius van der Westhuizen’s decisions, with the first big call coming in the lead-up to Theunissen’s try.
Stormers scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies delivered a lengthy pass to centre Dan du Plessis from a scrum outside the Bulls 22, which appeared forward on a replay, but Van der Westhuizen was happy with it. Then from the subsequent ruck, Jantjies found Theunissen unmarked on the left, but that pass was also questionable – again, the match officials felt that it didn’t go forward.
In the second half, wing David Kriel received a yellow card when attempting to catch the ball around the Bulls 22, and it seemed a bit harsh from Van der Westhuizen to send him off for 10 minutes.
“We had our chances until the end, with two lineouts five metres from the tryline, and didn’t finish off. And just like in the last game, in the 10-15 minutes after halftime, we again couldn’t get out of our half and 22, and we put a lot of pressure on our ourselves,” White said on Saturday night.
“We had a yellow card and had to play with 14 men, so it became difficult for us to win with 14 men and we were behind on the scoreboard.
“Those are the margins (with Kriel’s yellow card): if he catches that, we score under the poles. I don’t think he knocked it down – that’s my view. It happens… But they are so strict on it now that it was almost like he was guilty before there was any decision made.
“But I’m not going to moan about the referee. I am not going to give you a front-page headline news tomorrow, ‘Jake White says referees…’ It is what it is.
“We had a chance, even with 14 men. Maybe we should have scored there. We still had two chances in the last two minutes of the game to finish it off, and we didn’t. So, we can’t blame anybody for losing that lineout and not finishing off that maul.”
The Bulls had great success against Western Province and the Stormers in the Currie Cup and Super Rugby Unlocked when White first arrived at Loftus Versfeld, but now it’s been five defeats on the trot against John Dobson’s team.
White, though, said that he wouldn’t be enduring sleepless nights over yet another agonising defeat to the URC defending champions.
“I will get it right. I have done this job for years, and there is still a long time to go. It’s not nice, and it’s difficult after a game where you won the possession, territory and you’re still 13-12 behind at halftime after having done almost everything right in the first half,” the former Springbok coach said.
“We will improve, I have no doubt about that. There wasn’t a player tonight who didn’t play hard or didn’t give their best – that’s all you can ask for as a coach.
“I didn’t think they did anything wrong (after leading 12-3). The bottom line is that the Stormers scored a try and all of a sudden, it was 12-10 – that’s how it works. I don’t think it was purposeful that they took their foot off the gas.
“With their try, we were told we can’t break the five-metre line from a scrum, and the forward pass they were looking at was probably the wrong one – they should have been looking at the one that came in-field, not the one that went on the outside.”
Bulls 19 – Try: Sbu Nkosi. Conversion: Morné Steyn (1). Penalties: Chris Smith (4).
Stormers 23 – Tries: Marcel Theunissen, Junior Pokomela. Conversions: Manie Libbok (2). Penalties: Libbok (2). Drop goal: Libbok (1)