Cape Town — Jake White said before Saturday’s clash against the Stormers that he might get “sick” if he is reminded again about the five consecutive United Rugby Championship defeats that his Bulls team had endured against their great rivals.
So, you can imagine how he must have felt following the 33-14 quarter-final loss at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday.
But to his credit, despite rightly questioning some of the decisions from referee Jaco Peyper and TMO Marius Jonker, White gave the Stormers the best compliment possible at the post-match press conference.
Oscar Wilde’s famous quote, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”, comes to mind as the former Springbok coach acknowledged his team’s own limitations, and vowed to set things straight next season by using some of the strategies that have seen John Dobson’s Stormers defend their title in style.
Part of that plan is also to make the requisite signings, which is where the Capetonians have got it just right and the Bulls not so much.
“When I reflect on the URC, we are lacking a few things – we are lacking a couple of X-factor guys, so maybe next year we will try to do some recruiting. Get a couple of X-factor guys that can open the game up a bit,” White said.
“That’s our work-on. That’s basically what I said to the players ... I guarantee you we will get it right.
“I guarantee you we will work hard enough and that this time next year, we will be a much better team, from the lessons we’ve learnt in this campaign.
“I think the Stormers looked sharp. They showed us … their explosiveness is very good, so we are missing that.
“And we have got a couple of signings coming: I am busy negotiating with a couple of guys. Next year with Wilco Louw coming as a tighthead prop, he is a little bit more seasoned.
“Having seen the Stormers being successful … The Stormers are a very solid outfit. They can hold you in the first phase, they can put you under pressure when you try to play from lineouts, they have an incredible defence system.
“And as soon as you turn the ball over, then they can punish you. Basically, they are not scared to have a crack (on attack) — and that seems to be the winning recipe for the way you want to win this competition.
“One thing that has been incredible is that we scored the most points, 613, and generally, the Crusaders, Brumbies when they won Super Rugby, scored the most points — and Leinster generally score the most points.
“There are a lot of things I think we can still improve on, and I’ve said to the players tonight: we’ll get it right.”
Losing Canan Moodie before kickoff to a hamstring injury robbed the Bulls of a genuine strike-runner on attack, and it showed as they hardly fired a shot, with the other Bok speedster Kurt-Lee Arendse hardly getting the ball at right wing, with Johan Goosen moving to fullback and Chris Smith coming in at flyhalf.
But while Cyle Brink’s try before halftime still gave White reason to dream, the Stormers showed their class to close out the victory and secure a home semi-final against Connacht this Saturday.
“My halftime message was that at 17-7 and we haven’t even had the ball … I said to them, can you imagine? We can turn this thing around,” White said.
“People often talk about scoring right before and after halftime, so to get a score just before halftime is a thing that coaches talk about – those championship minutes either side of halftime and just before the end, and we got two of the three right.
“The message was, if we can try and score quickly after halftime, because at 17-7, we could make it 17-14 — and it would have been exactly the pressure I wanted to apply to the Stormers.
“I wanted them to feel what it’s like to be under the pump in front of their home crowd, and feel the pressure. But credit to them … We didn’t get that score after halftime, and in fact losing Goosen probably put us back as well, because he was just starting to understand what we needed to do in terms of the kicking game — and then we lost him.
“But it’s quite ironic because when Kurt-Lee went to fullback, we started carving them from behind. So, not sure what the right thing would have been … If Canan and Kurt-Lee had played fullback from the start, and we had Goosen at No 10, maybe we would have played a bit differently.
Joseph Dweba and Steven Kitshoff were enjoying themselves a little too much with the @THESTORMERS today 🤣— SuperSport Rugby (@SSRugby) May 6, 2023
You might never see a prop and hooker hitting steps and goosies like this again 😮💨 pic.twitter.com/6Vud13g2JJ
“But it’s easy to say that when the game’s over, as I didn’t know what it was going to look like.
“But I say it again: credit to the Stormers. They are a good team and they are champions, and have an incredible record here — and 10 incumbent Springboks. We don’t have 10 incumbent Springboks.
“I know on some show on TV that we’ve got 14, but we’ve got about four that are retiring this week!
“But next year, I guarantee you that we will be a much, much better team than we were this year.”