Pretoria - Loftus Versfeld was a strange place to be on Monday after Saturday’s epic derby in Cape Town between the Bulls and Stormers, but only because it seemed that the 20-17 loss hardly affected the home side as they went about their business preparing for the Crusaders this Saturday.
While debates raged on across the country about the game and its result, the Bulls firmly put it behind them, smiling and working hard at Monday’s training session ahead of another bone-crunching encounter this coming weekend.
It is true that the team felt that a number of 50-50 decisions went against them at Newlands, including the controversial last penalty that allowed the Stormers to sneak the result, but they were also complimentary about the Stormers and the part they played in a great game of rugby.
In short, the Bulls won’t get too worried about the result, mainly as there are still 11 rounds of Super Rugby to be played, and as we all know by now, a week is a long time in this competition.
Still, with the bragging rights firmly in the Cape, they know all too well they need to win their home clash against the seven-time champions this weekend if they are to make a firm run at the conference title later in the season.
And with just six rounds gone, there were both positives and negatives for them to work on as they looked towards this coming weekend.
For one, the Bulls will be disappointed with their own discipline, as 15 penalties and a yellow card certainly won’t win them too many games this season, but in the positive column, their fightback after a poor first half will buoy them knowing they are not too far off the pace against the side setting the pace in the competition.
That’s why forwards coach Johan van Graan was one of many still smiling on Monday, even though there were some grumpy spectators across the country who were disappointed with the result.
“We would have liked to win and after 77 minutes we were still in that game. The result didn’t go our way, but from a South African viewpoint it was a great derby between two of the top teams in the competition. The Stormers were very good in the first half and placed us under a lot of pressure, but we were very proud of how the guys came back from 14-0 down to 17-all,” said Van Graan. “We are in the business of winning, and while it was a great game, we wanted to win it, and won’t be satisfied with the loss.”
But while they aren’t satisfied in losing, the Bulls know that a lot of water still has to flow under the bridge, and now they know just where they stand, and how much work they have to do to get back to the top.
There are no panic stations at Loftus, but rather a realisation of the importance of the game the team will face this weekend.
“We don’t look too far ahead - there are still 11 rounds ahead in the competition. All we can do is to prepare for the Crusaders, and they have shown their class. The games between the Bulls and Crusaders in the last few years were great games. It remains a massive challenge for us to face them and we’re not looking too hard at the log at the moment. We will take it week for week,” Van Graan added.
“We gave away too many penalties and we will work at it. We adapted better in the second half and we know we have to adapt to the referee. We can’t control his calls, but that which we can control, we weren’t good enough on the weekend. We will be better.”
That said the Bulls probably will relish their unfamiliar role of chasing the Stormers in the conference. For a side which had lost so much talent after the World Cup, it is quite astonishing to see the transformation from unknowns to contenders to a team grappling with their own personality in these early weeks of Super Rugby.
And while no loss is good in anyone’s books, the Bulls may well have found the silver lining in their cloud. It came by being taught a few lessons of their own at Newlands on Saturday.