Bulls win the cup but lose the war
By Herman R Gibbs, Cape Dreams Editor
Victory in defeat left a bitter-sweet taste in the mouths of the title-chasing Bulls after they were outplayed 30-13 by the Stormers in the Super Rugby derby at Newlands on Saturday evening.
Straight after the match the Bulls were awarded a trophy for winning the South African Conference. However, the expression of their captain Dewald Potgieter showed no signs of a sense of achievement as he took hold of the grand conference winner’s trophy, which has become the most undervalued piece of silverware in Southern Hemisphere rugby.
“It was not a good feeling (for the Bulls) when we walked off the field tonight,” Potgieter told the media afterwards. “Obviously, a lot has gone into winning the SA Conference trophy but we saw tonight we that we still need to react when we’re trailing in a match.”
The bitter-sweet feeling was equally prevalent in the Stormers camp that went into the match without hope of reaching the play-offs but they produced their most cohesive performance for the season. But that was little consolation for Stormers skipper Jean de Villiers, who reflected on his side’s inability to rise above adversity in the past season.
“We find ourselves in this position (not being in the play-offs) because when the pressure was on us, we did not react the way we should have,” said De Villiers. “When the pressure was on we went into our shells.
“We started the season with a horrendous draw, and then we were hit by injuries.
“And then as a player-group we were also hit hard emotionally by what happened to Schalk (Burger), Elton (Jantjies) and Tinus (Linee).”
Frans Ludeke, the Bulls coach, was philosophical in defeat, saying it was important that his players heed the lessons they learnt in the match.
“We had a great season with nine wins in a row but tonight we were given a reminder that we can lose focus,” said Ludeke. “We cannot play like this more so if it is a knock-out match like a play-off.
“It is more important what we take out of this match and we now know that the line-out is one area we’ll need to work on before the play-offs.
“The positive thing is that the play-offs will be like a new competition and we have so much to look forward to.
“We didn’t end up topping the overall log but we don’t want to look too far ahead in respect of playing the Chiefs in Hamilton (New Zealand).
“The Stormers played with freedom and their set-pieces were better than ours. They were a very determined side but at least we kept on going. We know what we have to work on for the semifinal.”
Stormers coach Allister Coetzee also tempered his delight after his side’s comprehensive victory.
“It is hard to accept the situation we find ourselves in (not being in the play-offs) when we have now defeated all three conference winners (Bulls, Brumbies and Chiefs),” said Coetzee. “Our attack was outstanding tonight and the ambition was always there.
“Towards the end of the season we showed consistency by winning five games in a row.”
The Bulls will have a bye next weekend when the two play-off matches, to decide the final four teams for the semifinals, take place. Highest ranked winning team will play the Bulls in Pretoria in a fortnight’s time.
The rankings for the play-offs are 3-Brumbies, 4-Crusaders, 5-Reds and 6-Cheetahs.