Nortjé: Penalty decision probably going to haunt me a bit

Bulls captain Ruan Nortjé said that “defence wins you championships”, and Glasgow showed it by stopping the maul at the end to win the United Rugby Championship final. Photo: BackpagePix

Bulls captain Ruan Nortjé said that “defence wins you championships”, and Glasgow showed it by stopping the maul at the end to win the United Rugby Championship final. Photo: BackpagePix

Published Jun 24, 2024


To kick or not to kick at the posts was the question facing Bulls captain Ruan Nortjé at a critical stage of the second half of an enthralling United Rugby Championship final against the Glasgow Warriors on Saturday night.

With a packed Loftus Versfeld crowd hoping for a turnaround in the final, Nortjé had a difficult decision to make with the score at 21-16 to the Scottish outfit with about 14 minutes to go.

The visitors had just dotted down for a third time through former Stormers midfielder Huw Jones, but the Bulls got a penalty past the Glasgow 10-metre line after No 8 Jack Dempsey’s intercept try was ruled out for an early tackle on Kurt-Lee Arendse.

Nortjé’s gut told him to ask Johan Goosen to have a shot at goal and reduce the deficit to 21-19, but after consulting with some of his teammates, he changed his mind and opted for a kick to touch instead.

The Bulls, though, were unable to score from the subsequent line-out, and the opportunity to edge closer to Glasgow was lost.

The home side had a number of other chances in those frantic final minutes to clinch the victory, but it was not to be for Nortjé and his team.

“It was 14 minutes left, and we probably should’ve gone for poles,” the No 5 lock said.

“But I like to get the feel of the guys around me, and not just make the decision on my own. It was a collective decision to go for touch, and put them under pressure and keep them there.

“We knew if we could score a try there, we would be in the lead. But looking back, taking the three, 21-19, it’s definitely a lesson learnt for me.

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“I’ve experienced it in previous games... Last season in the Scarlets game, I was in the same position and took the points.

“I can say a lot of different things now about why I didn’t take it, but it’s definitely a thing that I’m going to think about – and it is probably going to haunt me a bit.

“But the game is over... .”

After the Bulls had run up a 13-0 lead, Nortjé felt that his team had to bury the visitors. He wasn’t happy about his team’s defence either, as they slipped a number of tackles.

And of course, Glasgow lock Scott Cummings’ try just before half-time was just the shot in the arm that they needed to get the necessary momentum for the second half.

“It’s definitely a tough one to take. It’s definitely going to hurt for a few weeks to come. But you’ve got to give credit to the Warriors,” Nortjé said.

“That try just before half-time gave them a little bit of momentum and belief. We slipped up there – one or two slipped tackles. That was a big, big change in the game.

“When they came out in the second half, they put us under a lot of pressure with the box-kicks, and got some reward from that.

“You can always say what if, but the game is over. We had a plan, and I don’t think our plan was too different to last week.

“Willie (le Roux) was a big loss for us, especially in the kicking game. Devon (Williams) is an awesome player, but we definitely missed Willie’s experience, and just his kicking game.

“Set-piece-wise, we wanted to put them under more pressure, and we didn’t, especially from mauling – we just didn’t get the reward we wanted. Credit to the Warriors for stopping our maul.

“That first half, Wilco’s (Louw) try – nobody really knows if it was held up or not. A lot of our guys saw it was definitely a try.

“Then Devon breaking through, just not getting the pass to Kurt-Lee (Arendse). Then Embrose (Papier) kicked through, and just couldn’t get it (an offload) away...

“Defence wins you championships, and that last maul – we saw Munster stopping a maul at the end of the game last year.

“Those are the small margins. I don’t really have words. It’s definitely a tough one to lose twice in a final.

“I luckily have a wonderful family and a wonderful wife that will definitely help me get through this next week. But we will definitely come back stronger – that is the biggest thing we can do.”