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Bulls getting back to their best

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The Super Rugby Unlocked log leaders ran in five tries in what was a dazzling display of attacking rugby that left the Stormers rattled.

Stedman Gans of the Bulls celebrates with teammates after scoring a try against the Stormers at Loftus Versfeld Stadium on Saturday. Picture: Samuel Shivambu, BackpagePix

CAPE TOWN – Stormers coach John Dobson says he and the rest of the team were “embarrassed” by the 39-6 mauling at the hands of the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday night.

The Super Rugby Unlocked log leaders ran in five tries and could’ve scored even more, according to Jake White, in what was a dazzling display of attacking rugby that left the Stormers rattled.

The Bulls top the standings on 15 points after four matches, although the second-placed Cheetahs have two games in hand on nine.

Things may have been even worse for the Cape side if a thunderstorm that brought lightning to Pretoria didn’t cause the match to be abandoned after 63 minutes.

While the normally chipper Dobson was understandably downcast in the post-match press conference, he stopped short of criticising his players’ character on the pitch.

“If I say I blame the players’ character, then I’m passing it on to them. I thought our body language was poor: we looked tired up here. When you concede two or three tries in a row (in the second quarter of the first half), the pack take shots and they look tired. We were frustrated with our body language,” he said.

“Where I think we did show some character was after halftime, in the last 15 to 20 minutes. We were a few times on their five-yard line and gave away a few penalties.

“The guys are very disappointed, and I think we are all embarrassed – including myself. But for me to push the blame on to the players by saying it was their character wouldn’t be fair.”

Instead, the Stormers mentor felt that his team battled to handle the Bulls’ pinpoint kicking game – where Morné Steyn’s accurate up-and-unders into a strong wind caused some panic among the Capetonians’ back-three – while the much-vaunted pack were also second-best on the night.

“I thought we – credit to the Bulls, they put us under a massive amount of pressure. We just made mistake after mistake – whether it was not handling contestables (kicks), poor line-out calls. In the first half after 23 minutes, it was 6-6. At halftime, it was 32-6,” lamented Dobson.

“I thought our maul defence was poor. We had Morné Steyn, whose kicking game was good and we didn’t defend well when we turned the ball over or dropped a contestable. In the second half, we were based down in their half and we gave away holding penalties – that was really, really good.

“When the game was called off, we were about to have our first scrum after 64 minutes. When a team doesn’t give away a scrum for 63 minutes, then they are playing really well and didn’t make an error for that amount of time. So, credit to the Bulls.”

A night to remember

For White, it was a night to remember. He had thrown some barbs at Dobson during the week about the Stormers possibly using the Springboks’ ‘Bomb Squad’ ploy of six forwards on the bench, but in the end, the visitors couldn’t even get that far as the Bulls blew them away with a heady cocktail of running rugby and smart tactical kicking.

“The first scrum was in the 24th minute, which shows that we managed to hold on to the ball. To be fair, the first 40 minutes is probably the best we’ve played in a long time, considering the opposition we’ve played against,” the former Bok boss said.

“The thing that I enjoyed the most was the continuity and the sort of play between backs and forwards. It wasn’t a case of just playing with our forwards – although I must say our forwards were outstanding. The way they scrummed and the way they mauled definitely set up a platform for the backs to play.

“What I really enjoyed was the interplay between the backs and the forwards. Some of the touches and some of the offloading, all of that sort of interplay was very pleasing.”

On his 36-year-old flyhalf Steyn’s outstanding display, White said: “I watched him play at Stade Francais when I was coaching at Montpellier, and he was still winning games there and Man-of-the-Match awards. When he was there, Stade Francais won the league and he was one of the most important players for them as well.

“Jacques (van Rooyen) is an older guy, Duane (Vermeulen) is an older guy, Morné is an older guy – but the kind of role-model and performances that they are giving the juniors makes it so much more easy for the coaching staff to get those juniors to play like that.”

Both teams are in action again next Saturday, with the Bulls facing the Lions at Ellis Park (7pm kickoff), while the Stormers have a tricky encounter against Griquas in Kimberley (4.30pm).

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