Cape Town – Jake White felt that the Bulls should have had a penalty try and Exeter Chiefs two yellow cards in the first half of Saturday’s 44-14 Champions Cup defeat.
In addition, the former Springbok mentor stated that his young outfit wasted a number of attacking opportunities that could have resulted in a different outcome at Sandy Park.
The 30-point defeat somewhat flattered the home side as the men from Pretoria – missing their first-choice match-23 – put up a gallant fight in freezing conditions.
The two major contentious calls by French referee Mathieu Raynal came between the 24th and 27th minutes. In the first instance, a galloping lineout drive saw hooker Bismarck du Plessis in possession, and when it looked like the No 2 was about to score, Exeter replacement centre Solomone Kata dashed in from the side and smothered the ball.
Raynal ruled that the ball was held up over the line and awarded a goal-line drop-out to Exeter.
In the second incident, the Bulls again got over the line, but were held up once more – and the visitors thought lock Reinhardt Ludwig was illegally brought down.
“I thought that guy came in from the side (to stop Du Plessis), and it could’ve been a penalty try. And the guy who tackled Reinhardt Ludwig was lying on the ground, and was offside as well. So, probably two yellow cards there,” White said.
“But those are the margins, and that’s what this competition does. We had our chances. We were held up, gave them a kickoff and then a scrum, and they got a penalty and scored – so it was like a 14-point swing.
“Looking at the Exeter team-sheet, you’ve got Jonny Gray, Stuart Hogg, Dafydd Jenkins from Wales, two other guys from Scotland, one from Ireland, Scott Sio from Australia, a flank from Wales, Argentinian, Tongan and South African on the bench – that’s what you’re playing against. It’s definitely a much tougher competition than you think.
“We had our chances and didn’t take them, and just made too many mistakes: 10 penalties in the first half, gave them too many entries into our 22, and they were phenomenal – they are probably the best team we’ve ever played against and analysed in terms of their hit-rate whenever they get into your 22.”
Du Plessis pushed the envelope at the breakdowns too, and was sometimes unfortunate to be penalised, while the Bulls front row also had a tough time in the scrums.
Exeter captain and England hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie grabbed a hat trick as the hosts built up a 32-7 halftime lead to take control.
“When I chatted to Bismarck, he said a couple of times, they played him from the side … Sometimes you get rewarded and sometimes you don’t. Exeter are so good that they can hold the ball for 20 phases, so if you don’t go at the breakdown, they get comfortable and just basically move you around,” White said.
“They are a very good team and will be up there at the end of the competition, I’ve got no doubt about it.
“The learnings we got out of it is that either you’ve got to be accurate at the breakdown or defend properly – you can’t give penalties away, but at the same time, you can’t give them quick ball all the time as they are good enough to hold onto it.
“Scrum-wise, I thought we were a bit unlucky. We got a penalty against us, and a couple of times we weren’t rewarded.
“I went to the ref afterwards, and I said to him, ‘Well done’, as they get a lot of flak sometimes. With the flow of the game, I thought he blew the things he saw, and he handled it the way that he did.
“It’s easy to look back at that ‘try’ where they came in from the side and stopped Bismarck, and the guy lying on the ground and offsides, but the referee didn’t see it like that – and you’ve got to accept it.
“If you get a chance and they hold you up – whether legally or illegally – and you don’t take it, you get punished.
“Exeter will be there at the end of the competition, and there were some guys who didn’t play today.
“Hopefully we will be able to do better against them at Loftus and get a win, and that will put our campaign back on track.”
Exeter 44 – Tries: Dave Ewers, Luke Cowan-Dickie (3), Henry Slade, Solomone Kata. Conversions: Joe Simmonds (4). Penalty: Simmonds (1).
Bulls 14 – Tries: Stravino Jacobs, Chris Barend Smit. Conversions: Morne Steyn (2).