Cape Town – Despite their scrum struggles, the Bulls still had a number of attacking opportunities against the Sharks that were wasted – and coach Jake White feels the absence of Kurt-Lee Arendse had something to do with it.
The Bulls went down 30-16 at Kings Park on Friday night, and are now languishing in second-last position on the 16-team log with five points – just ahead of Italy’s Zebre with one – after four defeats in five away matches.
But while they conceded several scrum penalties on the night, with tightheads Robert Hunt and then Lizo Gqoboka battling to stem the tide, the Bulls were able to create a few attacking opportunities by playing with width and stretching the Sharks defence with some slick handling.
The Pretoria side, though, just couldn’t hold on to the ball long enough, with either a knock-on and breakdown turnover stopping their momentum as they failed to add to David Kriel’s lone try.
Losing Kurt-Lee Arendse – he had a Covid-19 close contact, which saw Kriel move from outside centre to fullback, Cornal Hendricks shift to No 13 and Harold Vorster come in at inside centre – affected them considerably, as he was set to provide the Bulls with a fresh attacking dynamic as a fullback instead of at wing.
When asked how much of a disruption it was to lose Arendse, White said: “Massive, massive, massive. Massive. The whole thing I spoke to you about this week – I just wonder how many situations we would’ve finished had he been on the field, just because of his unbelievable ability to finish off those situations.
“But it will come. We will get to pick another combination and have a look at it. We haven’t been successful to get certain combinations on the field, but we will get them right.
“As I said – and I know it’s easy as a coach, now you start saying this and that – we’ll get it right, we’ll get it right. I mean, considering we had about four or five line-breaks where we just didn’t finish, there were a lot of opportunities there, and we leaked an opportunistic intercept try.
“So, it’s not do-or-die… The reality is it’s an away game against a really Springbok-laden Test side. It was always going to be a measure of where we are as a group, and the things we need to get right, I’m sure as a coaching staff, we’ll get right.”
White felt that the Bulls just had to show greater patience with ball-in-hand to reap their rewards – something that the Springbok-laden Sharks had done, with captain Lukhanyo Am capping an outstanding Man-of-the-Match performance with an intercept try.
“We probably needed to control it for one or two more phases longer to create some opportunities. We probably turned over the ball at really crucial stages – an intercept try when we were on the attack. We knocked the ball on, and next thing, they are going out of their own 22, and they got a penalty as well,” White said.
“If you look at that, that’s 10 points, and we only lost by 14. So, if you work it out, it’s not things that you can’t sort out.
“It’s about understanding how to handle the pressure situations of the game as well, and that comes with time as well. It’s not just so much as sort out the scrum, or get the lineouts right. I mean, just before halftime, we win a lineout and we get a poor delivery over Embrose’s (Papier) head – they get another three points.
“So, a couple of opportunities there, where if we’d just been a little bit more clinical, a bit more smart, a little bit more composed, I think we would probably have been okay. But that’s always going to happen when you play against a good team.”
White added that captain Marcell Coetzee had taken a blow to the head in the first half, and it was decided not to bring him back on to the field after a head injury assessment (HIA).
“He got a knock on the head, and at halftime, he wasn’t sure what happened. Precautionary-wise, I’ve got two boys – I don’t really want to push him into something that he doesn’t need to do. He wasn’t sure, and we don’t play games with head injuries, so he came off,” the coach said.
“And that is also a bit disruptive. Imagine you’ve got three tighthead props out, you lose your captain… taking nothing away, it is disruptive. But saying that, it’s all part of putting players on and seeing how they adapt as players and as combinations.”