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Bulls face mad scramble to get back to England while Stormers count cost of La Rochelle defeat

Bulls face mad scramble to get back to England while Stormers count cost of La Rochelle defeat
Try time for scrumhalf Embrose Papier of the Vodacom Bulls during the Investec Champions Cup, Round of 16 match against Lyon at Loftus Versfeld on 6 April 2024. (Photo: Gordon Arons / Gallo Images)

The Bulls are through to the quarterfinals of the Champions Cup while the Stormers were eliminated by defending champions La Rochelle.

The Bulls’ trek to England for the Investec Champions Cup quarterfinals next weekend was confirmed on Sunday after the Northampton Saints beat Munster 24-14.

bulls jake white

Bulls coach Jake White was unhappy about travel arrangements as his side prepare to leave for England to face Northampton in the Investec Champions Cup quarterfinals. (Photo: Lefty Shivambu / Gallo Images)

Bulls coach Jake White was hoping for a Munster win against Northampton to ensure a home quarterfinal, but his side will now have to commute. And he was less than impressed with provisional travel arrangements because there were none.

“I’m going to wear red [Munster’s colours] the whole day [on Sunday], especially because I haven’t got any arrangements from SA Rugby,” White said after his side beat Lyon 59-19 in the last 16 at Loftus on Saturday.

“The last time we went to Leinster we had to fly on eight different aeroplanes, and I suppose it’s going to be the same… I haven’t got any flight details yet, so either they didn’t think we were going to win or they waited until the last minute to book those flights.

“It’s frustrating, it’s really frustrating. I think SA Rugby are probably shouting for Munster [too] because they won’t be exposed on flights out of here. Who books a holiday or travel abroad on a Sunday night when you want to leave that week to go to a game with 40 people?

“So ja, [I want] Munster [to win] because we stay at home, and more importantly, because there’s no eight aeroplanes flying with different people around the world to arrive at a different place via different places with different buses and different shuttles picking a team up when you’re playing probably our biggest game this year.”

That scenario hasn’t materialised and now the Bulls face a daunting task of gathering and jetting off north, probably on several different flights. The upside though, is that there is no jet lag factor and at this stage of the season, the Bulls are a cohesive unit.

Their demolition of the French club at Loftus, scoring nine tries, was a statement win and demonstrated their depth of talent and growing multi-phase game.

Not even drafting in 19-year-old rookie JF van Heerden 10 minutes before kick-off because of a late injury to lock Ruan Nortje, threw them off.

It was also an impressive win as they’d just returned from Dublin after losing 47-14 to Leinster in the United Rugby Championship (URC).

“We wanted to rebound and good teams make sure they back up a poor performance with a proper performance,” White said.

“Some of those tries were outstanding… and over the years people have gone from seeing the Bulls being able to scrum and maul into the kind of rugby we saw [on Saturday].

“It’s obviously very pleasing to get a reaction like that, and pleasing that we can interchange the way that we play. We used the highveld, we used the altitude and the surface we practise on as a bonus. Very happy to pull that win off.

“JF van Heerden was unbelievable. He was picked literally 10 minutes before kickoff when we decided we weren’t going to risk Ruan.

“He played like he was a seasoned pro, but we’ve got unbelievable young juniors coming through in our system. It’s credit to the programme that we’re running because there’s not many other franchises that can boast the kind of juniors we’re getting through.

“When you get a guy like [assistant coach] Andries Bekker saying, ‘don’t worry, let’s start him, he’ll be fine’, it’s a great boost for a head coach.”

Stormers count the cost

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Stormers wing Ben Loader looks for space during the Investec Champions Cup round of 16 match against La Rochelle at DHL Stadium on 6 April 2024. (Photo: Cole Cruickshank / Gallo Images)

The Stormers lost 22-21 to defending champions La Rochelle in tough, windy conditions at the DHL Stadium. Manie Libbok’s angled conversion attempt with the last kick of the game sailed wide.

But more concerning for the Cape side was the injury toll the match took, with flank Deon Fourie likely to miss the rest of the season with a knee injury.

Three other players – flanks Ben-Jason Dixon and Hacjivah Dayimani, and lock Salmaan Moerat – underwent concussion tests and all failed, while wing Leolin Zas also suffered a serious knee injury.

By the end, hooker Andre-Hugo Venter was at flank and lock Ruben van Heerden at No 8.

“When you’ve got your hooker at flank, that puts you under pressure. The injuries were really tough,” Dobson said.

“BJ [Dixon] and Deon were going nicely. Those were big injuries. Deon’s knee is substantial. It’s not an ACL, luckily. It’s not a three-week injury. He’s on crutches now and it could be his season.

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A disappointed John Dobson (head coach) of the DHL Stormers after his side lost 22-21 to La Rochelle. (Photo: Grant Pitcher / Gallo Images)

“The Leolin Zas [injury] also looks reasonably serious. They have to be scanned, so they’re not quite sure yet.”

Defeat means the Stormers have a week off before their next URC clash against the Ospreys in two weeks, which might be a blessing in that competition.

Had they beaten La Rochelle they would have had to endure an even tougher travel schedule than the Bulls do, to Dublin to face Leinster next week with a depleted squad. It would probably have become ugly.

“For us to lose so many men in key positions and leaders, for that matter, is testimony to the character of the side,” Dobson said.

“They fought until the very end and that’s all we could have asked for. There was one point in it. We’re very proud of the group. It’s going to hurt for a while, and it should hurt, but ultimately I’m very proud of the effort shown.

“We’re obviously feeling gutted about the loss, because I think we actually had it in our own hands and we let them back in. But we would have had to get on a plane to Leinster with those five guys out, plus a couple more, I suspect. Our travel was already looking monstrous, flying on different days.

“At the moment, it’s [the Champions Cup] a bonus. We’re still a year or two off, just in terms of experience. This was a bonus and we just wanted to show our supporters that we’re at the top of club rugby, and we’re not far off I don’t think.” DM

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  • Steve Davidson says:

    This travel thing really needs to get sorted out very quickly. Why on earth SARU agreed a deal with Qatar is beyond me. They’re one of the worst – well OK, longest flight time – airlines to travel to Europe on. If they want to carry on with it, then they should start taking a few of their 777s out of service, change the seating into at least a Premium Economy pitch, and fly them as charter flights. It could be done IMHO, but then what do I know?

    I will say one thing, and it’s really going to get Jake peed off again – I flew to London on BA on Sunday night and the whole of the Lyon team that the Bulls had thrashed the night before were all nicely seated in Business Class – just like the SA teams going to play Super Rugby did, although that didn’t help them deal with the jetlag, which thankfully doesn’t happen N-S, although it’s still something like ‘jetfag’ if you have to sit for God knows how many Qatar hours in Cattle class if you’re a 6’7″ 180kg SA lock!

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