Bulls and Springboks No 8 Duane Vermeulen limped off after 32 minutes in the craziest Pro Rugby Rainbow Cup SA match I’ve ever seen. The Bulls won by four, in a match statistically they should have won by 40, but they never looked like winning at all, writes Mark Keohane.
John Dobson’s Stormers were heroic on defence and simply sensational on attack. They got four chances and they scored four tries. The Bulls got three tries from lineout mauls and an 81st minute winner from a pick and drive.
This for me was a crazy match because of the flow of the match.
The Stormers tackled like bravehearts, sustained their defensive shape and intensity for the entire match and will feel they deserved the win. They led on 78 minutes.
The Bulls, in a ‘not so quiet morning’ in Monday’s review session, will go through every detail and bemoan how they could have won by 40 points with better decision making, greater intensity on the kick chase and more decisive first up tackles.
The Bulls played 15-13 for five minutes and 15-14 for 15 minutes in the first half and they had 78 percent field position and possession, yet trailed 17-7 at halftime. They turned down three penalty kicks from 20 metres, messed up a lineout throw from five metres out and had a try disallowed because of a forward pass.
They would both another of those five metres out lineout throws, have two more tries disallowed and not kick for goal another three times. They would end the match with 73 percent field positon and possession, make just 64 tackles compared to the Stormers 269, have 20 lineout throws compared to the Stormers five and trail by four tries to three until the 80th minute.
To quote Boy Louw: ‘Looks at the scoreboard’.
The very best coaches will tell you the winning stats for title winning teams over the last four years are those who tackle more, run less, kick more and have an incredible defensive system.
I hear them, agree with them and concur.
But this wasn’t entirely the case at Loftus.
The Stormers didn’t decide to kick more and run less. They had no ball and when they had, they ran it and scored four tries.
The Bulls were as dominant as they will ever get in possession and field position, but as clueless as they have played in the past 12 months in decision-making and execution. Too often they went wide too early in the 22.
They had four tries disallowed, two from forward passes and one from ill-discipline on a captain’s challenge. They played so much rugby in their own half and put themselves at risk to referee interpretation at the breakdown and they never looked in control of the match.
They’d take an eternity to turn the possession and field position into points and give up points within a minute of the restart.
It made for riveting Friday night viewing and the most enjoyable South African match of the Rainbow Cup.
The lift in physicality and intensity was also obvious, with the Springbok squad of 45 to be named on Saturday evening.
Bulls newcomer Marcell Coetzee was magnificent in his first match back in South Africa after several years being the stand out loose-forward at Ulster in Ireland.
Several youngsters, among the Bulls and Stormers, showed the quality of the next generation of player, but it was Vermeulen’s injury, after taking a tackle from the imposing and ever present Pieter-Steph du Toit that will be an even bigger national rugby talking point than the match.
Vermeulen has five weeks to get ready for the British & Irish Lions.
Herschel Jantjies also left the field as a precaution. Hold your breath on that one.
And if you are still holding your breath after watching those 82 minutes, you can finally take a breath.
Give me tonight’s bruising bash and a 31-27, four tries a piece scoreline, over a 64-46 tackle-free exhibition match every day of the week.
I certainly tune into the Rainbow Cup before I would the Trans-Tasman touch rugby festival of the past month.