Hope springs eternal for the Bulls as they still have a chance of reaching the Super Rugby playoffs after a convincing 28-12 victory over a depleted Stormers side at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Saturday.
Despite making 12 changes to their match-day squad, the Stormers came out firing scoring two tries from turnovers for a 12-0 lead within the first 20 minutes of the encounter. The hosts remained calm and chipped away at the visitors’ lead to draw the scores level going into the half-time break, before they took the lead which they eventually extended for the victory. Bulls captain Victor Matfield said he was encouraged by the team’s performance, which showed hallmarks of previous successful sides.
“A belief is starting to grow in the team, I am very happy with this performance, it felt like the Bulls of old where we really squeezed them,” Matfield said. The Bulls slowly chipped away at the Stormers’ lead as flyhalf Handre Pollard kept the scoreboard ticking over with his deft place kicking. The second half saw the Bulls take further control of the match as they added three more penalties and a converted try for the victory.
Bulls coach Frans Ludeke praised his charges for the manner in which they kept their cool to come out on top. “We fought our way back in the first half when were behind by a lot, although we dominated the field position, there were one or two breakdowns they capitilised on,” he said.
“It just boiled down to decision making on the field, leadership and it is a great feeling afterwards to have a good win. “It was really a good win the way we planned it, attack, kicking game and defense, I thought the players were accurate although we fell behind but they kept their cool for an awesome second half.”
Reaching the playoffs
The victory launched the Bulls into eighth place on 28 points, eight points adrift of the log-leading Sharks, and they will enjoy their second bye next week. The Bulls chances of reaching the playoffs will be given a boost if the Sharks lose their remaining two matches on tour, which could see them replace the Sharks as the South African Conference leaders.
Ludeke, however, refused to wish any bad luck on to the Sharks and said they would instead focus on what they had control of. “You don’t want to hope for the Sharks to lose, they are a South African side, we have to do our own thing and the rest would take care of itself,” he said.
Stormers coach Allister Coetzee said while he was disappointed with the defeat, he was encouraged by the performance of his young and inexperienced side. “It is not an excuse, it is the reality, we lost eight starters last week and we are currently sitting with 19 injured players and two bring a young side to Loftus that scored two brilliant tries at the beginning of the game and slogged it out,” he said.
“In the end we lost it but I am really chuffed by the effort and the intent shown with the ball in hand. “If you allow the bulls to get penalty after penalty, they build momentum and that is where the squeeze comes in.”