Cape Town – The disappointment was writ large on captain Ruan Nortjé’s face in the immediate aftermath of the Bulls’ 29-25 United Rugby Championship defeat to the Lions at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday night.
His team had fought back from being 20-3 down in the first half through sheer bloody-mindedness to lead 25-23 after 62 minutes, following hooker Johan Grobbelaar’s try from a driving maul and Morné Steyn’s conversion.
But the Bulls were just not able to maintain their discipline in the final quarter, and Lions scrumhalf Sanele Nohamba landed two more penalties – for a personal haul of 24 points – to extend the Pretoria side’s winless run to four matches across the URC and Champions Cup.
Their last win was on January 14 in the Champions Cup against Exeter at Loftus, but the last two defeats to the Lions and the Stormers were particularly painful for Nortjé to accept.
The Bulls remain in sixth position on the URC log with 43 points from 15 games, and face Ulster in Belfast next on March 25, and then complete the league phase against Zebre and Leinster in Pretoria on April 15 and 22 respectively.
They will also take on Toulouse in France in the Champions Cup round of 16 on April 2.
“I’m lost for words… It’s frustrating and tough to lose two games in a row on Loftus. Obviously the guys kept on fighting until the end, but that’s not good enough when you give away silly penalties and your discipline is not up to standard. That’s probably why the result went against us,” No 5 lock Nortjé said in an interview on the Bulls Twitter page.
“It’s always great to get (four-try bonus) points out of a game, but for us, we take it personally. For us, it’s unacceptable to lose on Loftus – it’s very tough.
“We’ve just got to keep on working and keep our heads up. In the Stormers game, (if) one or two things went our way, we would have won that game.
“Tonight, if we had converted all our points, we could’ve probably had a result – and then we would have been over the moon, because we would’ve had two wins. Rugby is a humbling game…”
The Bulls wasted a number of scoring opportunities, with scrumhalf Embrose Papier’s try disallowed for a forward pass by left wing Sbu Nkosi in the first half, while right wing Sibongile Novuka knocked-on inside the Lions 22 early in the second half.
Veteran flyhalf Steyn also missed three difficult conversions from near the touchline.
Coach Jake White felt that the Bulls were not alert enough in the first half, especially when Nohamba raced away to score from a quick tap penalty.
“I suppose it depends on which half you want to analyse. In the second half, we looked desperate to come back. In the first half, we probably didn’t look like we were… High tackle, little things,” White said.
“We get a penalty on the halfway line right at the beginning of the game, and Morné taps and runs it, and we knock it on. From that scrum, we high-tackle and they get three points.
“Now, how do we get ourselves in that situation? If we get a penalty on the halfway line and kick it into their 22… The irony is that the very next time we had a lineout on that side of the field – where he (Steyn) would have kicked it out – we scored with Wandisile (Simelane) in the left-hand corner.
“Yes, I don’t think we were desperate enough in the beginning. I think it was just words, and that’s why we feel a little bit disappointed – because we can’t just say things and not understand.
“Before the game, (we said) ‘Please guys, watch, they are going to tap and run every free kick and penalty’, and as true as nuts, the first time they do it, they go and score.
“The bottom line is, you get measured on results. I was reading a thing by Vincent Lombardi (renowned American NFL coach and executive) this week… we get judged on results. The way it gets measured is as a loss. In our game, we can’t afford losses: we’ve got to win.
“So, that’s how the measurement is for me. We want to be a winning team, we want to be a winning province, and the measurement is that we failed that test today.”
Bulls 25 – Tries: Wandisile Simelane (2), Sbu Nkosi, Johan Grobbelaar. Conversion: Morné Steyn (1). Penalty: Steyn (1).
Lions 29 – Tries: Edwill van der Merwe, Sanele Nohamba. Conversions: Nohamba (2). Penalties: Nohamba (5).