Cape Town – Bulls lock Ruan Nortje won the United Rugby Championship Ironman award last season for the most minutes on the field.
The Pretoria side eventually beat Leinster in Dublin in the semi-final, and despite the 18-13 final defeat to the Stormers, the No 5 was duly rewarded with a Springbok call-up.
Nortje accumulated 1 394 minutes and was one of just 14 players to have taken part in all 18 league matches last season.
Since then, the 24-year-old has had to take over the Bulls captaincy from Marcell Coetzee – who is on a sabbatical in Japan – and has found the going tough at times during the current campaign.
It was another such occasion on Saturday night, as the Bulls somehow went down 23-19 to the Stormers despite dominating territory and possession, and having had several opportunities to close out the victory in the dying minutes.
White said afterwards that Nortje had been “a little bit down on himself” after the Bulls’ fifth loss in a row to their fierce Cape rivals, but backed the second-rower to “get it right” in the rest of the competition.
In the last few minutes, the Bulls had put together a 20-phase attack that was halted by a Sazi Sandi turnover, and then chose to kick a penalty into touch instead of producing one of their clever tap-kick plays, and they were unable to convert from the lineout.
It was a disappointing end for the Bulls fans to what had been a thrilling second half in particular for the over 41 000 supporters at Loftus Versfeld.
“Classic North-South Derby … it’s a tough one to take. But I’ve got to give credit to the Stormers. They put us under a lot of pressure, and we just couldn’t capitalise at the end,” Nortje said in a video on the Bulls social media accounts.
“All credit to the Stormers, and at the end of the day, I can just thank all the supporters for coming out today. It was an awesome atmosphere, and we are disappointed that we couldn’t get a reward for them – or the result for them tonight.
“I just think it’s small margins. When they put us under pressure, we couldn’t exit, and they capitalised from that. One or two silly mistakes from us, and we couldn’t get out of our 22 – and that gives them energy, gives them momentum.
“They defended so well in their 22, and like I said, all credit to the Stormers. We have a lot of work-ons. The boys worked hard these past two weeks, especially when it comes to the 22, but ja – it’s a tough one to take tonight.”
The Bulls will be back on the pitch on March 4, when they host the Lions at Loftus Versfeld.