Bulls’ losing streak is not a conversation at the Stormers

rugby28 February 2024 11:09| © SuperSport
By:Gavin Rich
article image
Rito Hlungwani and John Dobson © Gallo Images

In Pretoria they are talking about a losing streak against their team’s greatest rivals. In Cape Town they are talking about it too, but the one group of people not getting drawn into any conversation about the recent results of the big north/south derby at Loftus is the DHL Stormers squad.

The Stormers head to Pretoria at the weekend on a seven wins/no losses streak against their arch-rivals, the Vodacom Bulls. When the Stormers notched up their seventh win in succession just before Christmas in the first round Vodacom United Rugby Championship derby between the teams, it elicited a social media joke about Bulls coach Jake White being 007 - as in no wins, no draws, seven losses.

But Stormers forwards coach Rito Hlungwani is emphatic about it - those jokes, and that kind of talk, belong on social media, and that’s where they stay.

“Look, our winning streak against the Bulls that everyone talks about is not something we discuss, that is for the social media. Our job is just to go to Loftus and do the best job we can,” said Hlungwani in a break in his team’s preparations for Saturday evening’s big game.

Hlungwani received some strong backing for that assertion from the Stormers hooker Andre-Hugo Venter, who was recently rewarded for his good form by being invited to the national alignment camp to be staged in Cape Town next week.

“The past is the past, it has no relevance to this game, we know that for every game we need to pitch up and be at our best,” said Venter, the son of the legendary Springbok and Cheetahs flanker from the 1990s early 2000s, Andre Venter.

“The north/south derby is the biggest fixture in South African rugby and there will always be emotions. The winning and losing streaks don’t play over into the next game. It is important not to get involved in too much emotion. We must just fight and do our best.”

Although there is a strong rivalry between the two coaches, White of the Bulls and the Stormers’ John Dobson, and it would be understandable if the need to break the losing sequence was starting to become personal for White, there is a healthy sense of respect between the two playing groups. And you won’t ever hear any of the Stormers coaches talking the Bulls down, either.

“We are well aware we are playing a very strong team,” said Hlungwani in response to being asked how he rates the progress of the Bulls’ pack since the DHL Stadium clash in December.

“They are above us on the log, they had more players called up for the alignment camps, and they also have massive experience within their coaching group. Jake has won a World Cup, Gary Gold (Bulls defence coach) has been part of a Springbok coaching team. They are very experienced individuals and an experienced team.

“We are not taking them lightly, we are giving them all the respect they deserve,” added the Stormers forwards coach.

The Stormers have been on an impressive winning run since their understrength team lost narrowly to Leicester Tigers at Welford Road in the opening game of the Investec Champions Cup. However, they haven’t always fired on all cylinders for 80 minutes, and it wasn’t surprising to hear Hlunwani say that cohesion was something the team was working hard on ahead of the Loftus clash.

“We’ve got to get our cohesion right, that is an area we need to improve, we are always looking to continuously improve. Cohesion is what we are working hard on, meaning the cohesion between the different positions and different partnerships and sections within the team. The forwards and the backs are themselves made up of different units and the synergy between them is what we have been working on.”

Hlungwani confirmed that all the top Stormers players, including the Springbok World Cup winners who have completed their mandatory five week break, are available for the Pretoria trip.