The Cape side dominated possession, but at times looked as if they didn’t know what to do with the ball as they went into “one-off runners” mode again on Saturday night.
The poor performance not only cost them victory, but also top spot on the Africa Conference 1 log as the Bulls took the lead due to having seven wins compared to the Stormers’ six, with both teams on 32 points.
The Bulls pack got the better of their more experienced opponents, with the likes of youngsters such as Man-of-the-Match Jannes Kirsten, locks RG Snyman and Jason Jenkins, loose forwards Arno Botha and Lappies Labuschagne, as well as the front row of Lizo Gqoboka, captain Adriaan Strauss and Marcel van der Merwe physically pounding the Stormers into the Loftus turf.
While Eben Etzebeth, Pieter-Steph du Toit and captain Frans Malherbe tried hard, they were unable to stem the tide as lineouts were lost, scrum penalties were conceded and the Bulls defence swarmed all over the Stormers backs.
“Credit to the Bulls set-piece, especially their contesting. They put our lineout under pressure, and we obviously couldn’t launch from that. Then a couple of penalties at scrum-time kept them in the game in the first half,” Fleck said at the post-match press conference.
“When we don’t dominate set-piece, when it’s always a tight game like this, you need to dominate the set-piece. It must be said again, credit to the Bulls defence. I thought that they worked incredibly hard for each other.
“We were attacking pretty well, we able to retain possession and put them under pressure. But they did incredibly well to slow down our ball at ruck-time and we weren’t able to get any quick ball or up the tempo, for that matter.
“They brought the tempo down to their pace, which didn’t suit us, and it became a set-piece battle, which we probably didn’t want. We wanted a quick, open game, so credit to them for the way they defended.”
But the ball that the Stormers did manage to get was badly used. Scrumhalf Nic Groom took a few ill-advised tap kicks from penalties when a shot at goal would’ve been a better option, while Schalk Burger in particular was often at first receiver instead of flyhalf Jean-Luc du Plessis.
The young pivot also didn’t take charge of the attack as he has in earlier games this season, while centres Damian de Allende and Johnny Kotze seldom passed the ball and opted to tuck it under their arms and seek contact instead of creating space for fullback Cheslin Kolbe and wings Leolin Zas and Kobus van Zyk.
“Probably in the first 25 minutes we just kept on going at their line. Then we started to employ little attacking kicks in behind, which started to work a little bit towards the end of the first half. Again in the second half, we were just really surviving on the scraps that we were getting and we couldn’t really launch our set-piece,” Fleck said.
“I felt that we scored a really good try, and I thought that was the swing for us. I thought we could’ve won it from there. But they fought their way back in and got the win in the end.
“To be honest, we are not going to stop what we’re doing. Our… what we say is that we are going to be fearless in our approach and we are going to keep on playing an attacking brand of rugby. Eventually it will come together for us, and there have been glimpses throughout the season where it has worked for us.
“And there were stages where it was working well for us in this game. But at the end of the day, there were too many mistakes and too many penalties against us, and that cost us. But we are certainly not going to stop what we’re doing, and we are going to keep working towards a better product at the end of the day.”
Now the Stormers will get ready to host the Cheetahs at Newlands on Saturday (3pm kickoff), with Fleck saying that there are no new injury concerns. But they will have to find a solution in the scrums, as Oli Kebble was put under enormous pressure by Van der Merwe.
Loosehead prop Alistair Vermaak does have Super Rugby experience and is a solid scrummager, so perhaps he should get an opportunity against the Cheetahs.
Original source: Error-strewn Stormers ‘will be fearless’