— Cape Town Saturday’s 33-31 United Rugby Championship win at Loftus Versfeld was almost too easy for the Bulls at one end, according to head coach Jake White. The players learned an important lesson by coming so close to losing to Edinburgh, he added.
Henry Immelman, a fullback from Edinburgh who was born in Upington, had a chance to win a victory with a penalty kick after the final whistle, but he missed the target from approximately 45 meters out, giving Marcell Coetzee’s team a clean sweep of log points.
The Pretoria team should have never been in that position, as they led 15-0 after the first quarter, but they allowed the visitors back into the game and led by only 15-14 at halftime.
Left wing Damien Hoyland’s score put Edinburgh ahead 31-30 with 10 minutes remaining, but Morné Steyn remained as cool as ever to slot a late angled penalty.
“In these competitions, you must work hard. The margins are really slim. This kick by Immelman was literally worth three (log) points… we would’ve received two (points) — we get five. I conveyed this message to the players. “Do not underestimate the difficulty of this competition,” White advised.
“I just thought, without detracting from their performance, that every time we had a small cushion, we made a couple of dumb mistakes.
“I believe, to be fair, that the players also felt that” (that it would be an easy win). When they had a 15-point lead, they were able to score rather easily due to the pressure they created. It’s human nature to assume that points will happen on their own.
“Therefore, it’s a lesson you learn, but it’s simpler to learn that lesson after a win than after a defeat.”
Edinburgh, which had several Scottish internationals, notably former South Africans Pierre Schoeman and WP Nel, disrupted the Bulls’ flow by causing numerous stoppages.
However, the home team also missed a number of one-on-one tackles, allowing Edinburgh wing Darcy Graham to score a hat-trick.
Obviously, we discussed this issue during halftime as well. We barely allowed them to pass the (defensive) line. “Twice or three times in the second half, we put them in reverse, which is how we intended to defend, and we made it easy for ourselves,” White said.
“However, it is an area we discussed, and they are the type of team that will punish you, unload, and keep the ball alive if you miss one or two tackles.
“I just told their coach (Mike Blair) not to ignore the fact that we have a lock (Ruan Nortje) who has played in one Test match, and that their entire tight-five has played in Test matches. They definitely have more Test-match experience as a pack than we do in the URC.
“Therefore, we must also be cognizant of the fact that this is not a team against which it is reasonable to assume an easy victory.
“I think the Edinburgh men handled time management quite well. Changing boots, constantly removing and reapplying… At times I was a touch frustrated because we would have loved to have sped things up a bit more and kept the ball in play – and possibly pinned them down more.
“However, it’s funny how it works… Occasionally, by slowing down, they also ran out of time towards the end. Sometimes you can be your own worst enemy. If there were three or four more minutes, or if they hadn’t slowed the game down in the midst of the game…
“Where can you find a man changing his boots one minute after halftime after spending 15 minutes in the locker room (like Schoeman did)?
“They are an intelligent and well-coached team. We lost to them last year, but now we beat them at home, which is a fantastic development.”
Friday at Loftus Versfeld, the Bulls will face Irish team Connacht, who fell 38-15 to the Stormers (6.30pm kickoff).
Johan Grobbelaar, Elrigh Louw, Cornal Hendricks, and Stravino Jacobs scored tries for the Bulls (33). Chris Smith converts: (2). Smith (2) and Morné Steyn (2) are assessed penalties (1).
Charlie Savala, Darcy Graham (three), and Damien Hoyland scored tries for Edinburgh in their 31st victory. Conversions: Mark Bennett (3).