The Bulls stayed at the top of the Super 14 standings when they edged the Stormers 14-10 in brutal and at times spiteful Round Four encounter at a packed Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
The teams scored one try each, but the Bulls managed to hold on in the face of a strong second-half charge by the Stormers.
Loftus Versfeld was packed. It was a full house – 50 000 people. Every nook and cranny was filled and there was a mass of blue – mostly Bulls blue but also the Stormers darker hue. By the end of the first half 50 000 people must have thought it would have been better to have stayed at home. Then came the second half, the kicking died down and rugby was played and it was exciting.
The Stormers had Willem de Waal at flyhalf and he kicked left-footed and long. If he did not Percy Montgomery kicked left–footed and long. The Bulls had three booters – Fourie du Preez, Zane Kirchner and Morné Steyn. It was a disappointing kickathon with little rugby.
Each side had a teenager on the wing – Gerhard van den Heever for the Bulls and Nick Köster for the Stormers. They, too, may as well have stayed at home for the first half for all the ball they got. They were just appendages. But in the second half they got to play.
The Stormers started off as if they were determined to run and then settled for the “tactical” game when they found no headway against the Bulls’ hard defence.
Apart from the kicking hither and thither, the most obvious happenings in the half were three kicks goaled and long boos of Luke Watson whenever he touched the ball. In the second half he reacted in fury to the crowd’s booing, which may have encouraged them to boo some more. There were also nasty banners about him.
The kicks were a penalty goal by Steyn (24 minutes), a dropped goal by De Waal (31 minutes) and a penalty by Steyn (37 minutes). The last was against Schalk Brits at a tackle, for which he received the added punishment of a yellow card. He was unhappy about the decision but the replay suggested that it was deserved and had been preceded by two warnings for the team about tackle infringements. (In the match there were nine free kicks against them for tackle infringements, against the Bulls eight.)
The happiest moment in the half was a small one. Montgomery caught a high kick and claimed a mark as big Bakkies Botha bore down on him with obvious intent. But as the two got close each broke out in a smile.
Victor Matfield led the side out to start the second half after spending the first half on the bench.
The Stormers started the half attacking and then from near their own line Matfield set the Bulls attacking. Pedrie Wannenburg ran strongly and only a great tackle by Köster prevented Spies from scoring.
But the Bulls did score. Du Preez tapped a free kick and with great hands Akona Ndungane got the ball to Wynand Olivier. Andries Bekker could not stop the centre who scored.
Brits came back then, eight points conceded in his absence.
The Bulls then took over the play and Steyn dropped a goal. 14-3. They should have gone further ahead when they went left but with an overlap of two Matfield grubbered into the in-goal and the ball beat JP Nel into touch-in-goal.
At this stage the Stormers were making changes bringing off the bench Peter Grant, Schalk Burger, Adriaan Fondse, Sireli Naqelevuki, young scrumhalf Dewaldt Duvenhage, prop Schalk Ferreira and hooker Deon Fourie.
This was followed by the Stormers’ best period of play in the match, perhaps in this season’s Super 14. And they were rewarded with a splendid try.
They went right, then left and then back right where chunky Fourie burst between Gürthro Steenkamp and Werner Kruger to race away and score close in. Grant converted. 14-10
They kept on running till the Bulls broke out again and Du Preez dispossessed Watson to put them on close attack.
For the Stormers their second half must have been heartening but even more so the performance of their forwards at set pieces. They lost just one of their 18 line-outs while the more vaunted Bulls lost four out of 17 and threw in skew twice. It had been expected that the Bulls would dominate the scrums, but this did not happen. Much of the hard work for the Stormers was done by flank Duane Vermeulen. He won line-outs and generally looked the best tight forward and the best loose forward in the visitors’ pack.
For the Bulls, whose win takes them to the top of the Super 14 log, there was again that tough, abrasive defence with great contributions from JP Nel and Pedrie Wannenburg.
Man of the Match: Certainly Duane Vermeulen is a candidate but then so are Bulls Zane Kirchner, Pedrie Wannenburg and Pierre Spies, Morné Steyn and out choice Fourie du Preez – simply the most effective player on the field.
For the Bulls:
Pens: Steyn 2
For the Stormers:
DG: De Waal
Yellow card: Schalk Brits (Stormers, 36 – repeated offences, playing the ball on the ground)
Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JP Nel, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Gerhard van den Heever, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez (captain), 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Pedrie Wannenburg, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Danie Rossouw, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Gurthrö Steenkamp.
Replacements: 16 Derick Kuün, 17 Rayno Gerber, 18 Victor Matfield, 19 Jacques Burger, 20 Heini Adams, 21 Burton Francis, 22 Jaco Pretorius.
Stormers: 15 Percy Montgomery, 14 Tonderai Chavhanga, 13 Gcobani Bobo, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Nick Koster, 10 Willem de Waal, 9 Ricky Januarie, 8 Luke Watson, 7 Duane Vermeulen, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 AJ Venter, 3 Brian Mujati, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Wicus Blaauw.
Replacements: 16 Deon Fourie, 17 Schalk Ferreira, 18 Adriaan Fondse, 19 Schalk Burger, 20 Dewaldt Duvenhage, 21 Peter Grant, 22 Sireli Naqelevuki.
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Touch judges: Mark Lawrence (South Africa), Sindile Mayende (South Africa)
TMO: Johann Meuwesen (South Africa)