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RUGBY

Bulls losing streak against Stormers is a touchy subject – but there is no escaping it

Bulls losing streak against Stormers is a touchy subject – but there is no escaping it
Reinhardt Ludwig of the Bulls is tackled by Damian Willemse of the Stormers in their United Rugby Championship match against the Bulls at DHL Stadium in Cape Town on 23 December 2023. (Photo: Ashley Vlotman / Gallo Images)

The Bulls have lost seven matches in a row against the Stormers and the Stormers have won 17 in a row against South African sides.

Bulls coach Jake White has seen a few streaks in his illustrious coaching career – some good, some bad.

When he was national coach, his Springboks went 13 matches unbeaten at home between 2004 and 2006, but it’s not only the winning streaks that stand out.

jake white

Bulls coach Jake White. (Photo: Lee Warren / Gallo Images)

Although his Bulls are the leading South African team in the United Rugby Championship (URC) this season, traditional rivals the Stormers have gone from being a thorn in White’s side to an assegai in his flank.

The Cape side have never lost to the Bulls in the URC – a streak that now sits at seven games in two-and-a-half seasons, including earlier in the current campaign at DHL Stadium last December.

It’s an anomaly that has become a bad habit for the Bulls, and although the Stormers and Bulls have tried to steer talk away from streaks, White had little option but to confront the situation as the sides prepare to meet at Loftus at the weekend.

“They (the Stormers) have had our number in this (URC) competition,” White said on the side of the training field this week.They have been the form team since the inception of this competition.

bulls losing streak stormers

The Stormers celebrate after winning their United Rugby Championship match against the Bulls at DHL Stadium in Cape Town on 23 December 2023. (Photo: Ashley Vlotman / Gallo Images)

“We are getting better and I’m much happier about where we are now in year three, compared to where we were in year one.

“We need to simply play our best rugby. We’ve never really played well against them. They don’t allow you to play well, because they are a very good defensive side.

“I’m not even worried about (the streak) because they are the form team of the competition.

“Since this has started, they’ve played in two finals. Leinster are the most complete team in this competition and they haven’t done that.

“You have to give the Stormers credit for what they’ve achieved. A lot of teams haven’t got it right against them. I don’t talk about how long, where and how many. It’s another game.

“We’ve played well against good teams at Loftus. I’m just expecting us to grow as a group and get better and better, which we are. I have a lot more confidence that our side has grown.”

The Stormers are also on a streak, having won their last 17 matches against South African opposition in the tournament.

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Stormers forwards coach Rito Hlungwani. (Photo: Ashley Vlotman / Gallo Images)

But forwards’ coach Rito Hlungwani played that down too.

“The winning streak that everyone talks about is not something we’ve discussed – that’s for social media,” Hlungwani said.

“For us, the focus is on the job at hand, going to Loftus and performing as well as we can. That’s definitely the main focus at the moment.”

Experience

The Stormers have won the URC once and finished runners-up in year two. 

White, who has nearly 30 years of coaching experience at provincial and Test level, put the Stormers’ recent dominance down to their “experienced” coaching group.

“They have a very settled coaching staff that have been together for almost 10 years, through the junior ranks,” White claimed. “They have had a lot more time together – to plan things and do things well.”

It was an odd statement considering White has the vastly experienced Gary Gold as his assistant. Between White and Gold, they have almost 50 years of experience at the top.

urc louw nel dayimani

Bulls captain Elrigh Louw is tackled by Ruhan Nel and Hacjivah Dayimani of the Stormers in their United Rugby Championship match at DHL Stadium in Cape Town on 23 December 2023. (Photo: Ashley Vlotman / Gallo Images)

It’s no surprise that Hlungwani, with less than a handful of years coaching at provincial level, was quick to toss the “experienced” line back at the Bulls’ boss.

“They (the Bulls) have a highly experienced coaching staff – Jake White has won the World Cup, Gary Gold has coached at the Springboks,” Hlungwani, not unreasonably, pointed out.

“It’s a very experienced group of individuals; an experienced team. It’s going to be tough, and we are not taking them lightly… and giving them the respect they deserve.

“We would be naive to think that we will get exactly the same Bulls team as before, so it will be a different challenge.”

Both sides have improved as the season has progressed, with the Stormers currently sixth on the standings and the Bulls third with just five points separating them.

Stacked rosters

There is very little to choose between the sides in terms of personnel, with both teams possessing strong packs and game-breaking backs.

Springbok outside backs Canan Moodie and Kurt-Lee Arendse are proven world-class performers with the ability to rupture a tight game with moments of genius.

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Ruben van Heerden of the Stormers in the United Rugby Championship match against the Bulls at DHL Stadium in Cape Town on 23 December 2023. (Photo: Cole Cruickshank / Gallo Images)

In the pack, the Bulls’ acquisition of behemoth tighthead Wilco Louw in the off-season has been one of the signings of the year, while the maturing back-rower Elrigh Louw is an understated warrior.

But coming the other way, the Stormers have their own X-factor backs in the Bok duo of Manie Libbok and Damian Willemse. Throw in the precocious talents of Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu and Suleiman Hartzenberg and there are prospects for another absorbing encounter, sprinkled with brilliance.

The Stormers pack, who have operated with the departed Steven Kitshoff and injured Frans Malherbe all season, have been exceptional. 

Neethling Fouché, at tighthead, has made Malherbe’s absence unnoticed, and there is no higher praise than that. It’s no wonder, then, that he has been asked to attend a Bok alignment camp next week.

Malherbe is back this week after a lengthy back injury, creating a welcome selection conundrum for Stormers coach John Dobson.

Everywhere you look, from marauding Stormers loose-forward Hacjivah Dayimani to athletic Bulls lock Ruan Nortje, there is supreme talent. 

The traditional north-south derby is a chance for established stars and emerging future stars to present the best in a South African rugby environment still enjoying the warm afterglow of the Rugby World Cup 2023 triumph.

The URC is providing a strong platform for players to bridge the gap to Test rugby, and with full-strength teams set to clash at Loftus, this will be a mini-Test.

“You need to pitch up for every game, and, if you look at the north and south derby, it’s probably the biggest fixture in South African rugby,” Hlungwani said.

“So, there’s always going to be emotions, no matter what the winning and losing streaks are. That doesn’t really carry over into the next game.” DM

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