After losing twice to the Stormers in January and April, the Bulls had to jack up their ability to turn their pressure into points according to captain Marcell Coetzee, and he is confident that their finishing is now on par with their hosts ahead of their United Rugby Championship final in Cape Town on Saturday.
The Bulls lost 30-26 to the Stormers at Loftus Versfeld in January, a 20-minute purple patch giving them a 26-18 lead with 12 minutes left, but they frittered away their advantage. Then, in Cape Town in April, the Bulls were outscored two tries to one in a 19-17 defeat as the Stormers’ defence showed none of the little losses of concentration that their archrivals did.
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“Execution was the difference in those matches. We had a lot of opportunities and we could have sealed the deal. There were a lot of chances that we did not take,” Coetzee said.
“But the Stormers did, like they did in their semi-final last weekend against Ulster. That’s what makes them dangerous: They take their chances to the best of their ability.
“But we’ve got better at that too and we are more clinical now. So I would say the execution of our game-plans is at an equal level for both sides.
“There was huge jubilation after beating Leinster, but what we were most proud of was how we implemented our plan on the day with 100% efficiency. We showed we can win an away playoff.”
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With so much riding on the game – not just the previous history between the two great North/South rivals of South African rugby, but also the chance to be the first URC champions – it is unlikely the teams will be able to play with unfettered freedom. Adding to the Test match feel will be the fact that the Stormers will give the Bulls little leeway in the scrums or at the breakdown.
The Stormers have the edge in current Springboks and World Cup winners, and the Bulls will be running to the shelter provided by their experienced, internationally-proven men like Coetzee, Morne Steyn, Bismarck du Plessis, Cornal Hendricks and Arno Botha.
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“I remember as a young player playing in finals for the Sharks between 2011 and 2013, there’s immense pressure on you, but you feel safe with guys who have been there and done it before. You feed off that,” Coetzee said.
“And those experienced guys feed off the youngsters’ energy, how much we appreciated being in a final. Guys like Morne and Bismarck, they know what to expect and we know what to expect from them.
“It’s not so much about revenge, but a final will be personal on both fronts and it’s always 50/50 on the day. We will approach the final with the humility and respect it deserves.
“Our job is not done yet, there’s still a lot for us to fix. Our plan worked to perfection but then we let Leinster back in the game at the end. But the Stormers were able to keep their composure towards the end of a tight contest.”