Bulls captain Flip van der Merwe says the 32-21 defeat at the hands of the Lions in their Super Rugby match at Ellis Park on Saturday night epitomised the three-time champions’ season that now looks likely to end without a playoffs place.
“It summed up our season, there were a lot of faults at crucial times. We were definitely in the game, we played some good rugby but the Lions played Bulls rugby against us very well,” Van der Merwe told a press conference after the game.
The Bulls are now down in ninth position on the log with 33 points and, with just two games remaining after the international break, trail the sixth-placed Hurricanes by four points.
But the Chiefs (35pts), Western Force (36pts) and Highlanders (38pts) are also all ahead of the Bulls and have three matches to play, while the Brumbies are fourth with 40 points with two games left.
Bulls coach Frans Ludeke said the team’s lack of accuracy on attack had again cost them dearly, as it has in so many of their away games this season.
“The big story was our finishing, we weren’t clinical. We played some good rugby, stringing phases together, but then penalties in the Lions’ half would break our progress, that’s where the momentum swung their way.
“When things aren’t going your way, you need a big moment to ignite the team and it just wasn’t there. It’s disappointing, we played against ourselves but we still feel there’s a small chance of making the playoffs,” Ludeke said.
The Lions camp, back on home turf after a tough four-week tour on which they were unfortunate to lose all their games, were far more optimistic as the victory showcased the character of the team and the bright future that lies ahead of them now that they have guaranteed Super Rugby.
“The boys are obviously glad to be home and they showed a lot of passion tonight. They were really hungry for the win because we felt we played better than our results overseas,” coach Johan Ackermann said.
“It makes me proud that the team never gives up, they train as if they are a winning team and I can’t fault the effort the last few weeks. It’s nice to get the reward.
Ackermann pointed out that they still needed to be sharper in areas of their game.
“We weren’t accurate in everything tonight, we lost a lot of lineouts, but we’ve learnt how to get out of our half and when to run the ball.
“The scrums were good and it was a big step up for Ruan Dreyer and Charles Marais after the late withdrawal of Julian Redelinghuys.
“The team fixed things well out on the field tonight and they worked hard for each other on defence.”
Lions captain Warren Whiteley was happy his team had shown how much they learnt on tour.
“We’ve shown how much we’ve grown, our brotherhood and our passion. We learnt valuable lessons on tour and we’ve got processes in place to stay calm, just think of the next task and stick to the game plan. I’m really proud of the effort,” Whiteley said.
The Lions’ defence was another standout area on the night, with an 89% tackle success rate compared to the Bulls’ 81%.
“Defence is something that epitomises us as a team, we pride ourselves on it. You can see our character and heart in it, the two try-saving tackles in the corner are one of those small margins that matter so much in Super Rugby,” Whiteley said.
The Lions have climbed off the bottom of the log into 13th place and finish their campaign with home matches against the Melbourne Rebels and Cheetahs.