‘Morale’ of the story is Bulls believe

Bulls No 8 Marcell Coetzee takes on the Stormers’ defence at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday. | BackpagePix

Bulls No 8 Marcell Coetzee takes on the Stormers’ defence at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday. | BackpagePix

Published Mar 5, 2024


Bulls co-captains Marcell Coetzee and Ruan Nortjé both missed their team’s December defeat to the Stormers, and it was no coincidence that they were two of the best players on show in Saturday’s victory at Loftus Versfeld.

It has been a long and winding road for the Pretoria side before they could finally put one over their arch-rivals – seven matches, to be exact – and it was a case of lucky number eight for Jake White’s team in the 40-22 triumph.

The bonus-point victory in front of over 50 000-plus spectators saw the Bulls move to second position on the URC log, so their 12 players who arrived in Cape Town on Sunday for the Springbok alignment camp would have been wearing broad smiles on their faces.

No 5 lock Nortjé was the official player of the match for his usual high work rate in defence and as a ball carrier, excellent line-out efficiency and general leadership, but the award could also easily have gone to Coetzee. Playing at No 8, the 32-year-old loose forward made some telling carries and tackled any Stormers player that moved – sporting a bleeding cut below the left eye as a badge of honour.

“Finally, hey! It was always close games in the previous encounters, and in the moments that turned the games, we were maybe not accurate at times,” Coetzee said, about ending the seven-match losing streak to the Stormers.

“It was unfortunate that I picked up an injury in my quad (to miss the December game), and when you hear you are not involved, it is always disappointing.

“But you try to be a good teammate during the week and just help the guys around you. When you finally see your name this week, you realise that you are not going to take that for granted.

“I felt like the game management was superb – and that’s credit to the back three and Goosie (Johan Goosen) and Emmy (Embrose Papier) leading the charge there, and everyone just sticking to the game plan.

“Ultimately, it smothered them, they made mistakes, and we just put pressure on them.

“It’s massive (belief now). You can only measure yourself when you play quality sides, and the Stormers have been in the final for two years running.

“For the morale, it creates a belief in the squad that we can go all the way if we just stick to the structure, stick to the system. There’s nothing like this big game that just glues the team together,” he said.

The Bulls made an early statement by scoring from a line-out drive inside two minutes – and it was from over 10m out, with hooker Johan Grobbelaar doing well to remain bound to the original maul and go all the way.

The forwards got stuck in with relish, and Coetzee noted that they managed to keep Stormers captain Deon Fourie relatively quiet at the breakdowns.

“I think there were a lot of areas (that you need to dominate) when you play against the Stormers. They are still a quality side, and it’s hard to find real faults in their game – their kicking game and how they manage the game as well,” he added.

The Bulls will now enjoy a few weeks off before their next URC encounter against the Dragons in Newport, Wales, on March 23, followed by Leinster in Dublin, on March 29, before the massive Champions Cup round-of-16 play-off against Lyon in Pretoria, on April 6.