On a day of epic results, the DHL Stormers produced one of their own as they came to Loftus Versfeld and outmuscled the Vodacom Bulls for a 23-13 victory.
It wasn’t really the scoreline that mattered, but rather the way the Stormers dismantled the Bulls attack, which increasingly is looking outdated in a competition that favours an attacking team and especially one who doesn’t kick the ball away.
For most of this season the Bulls have foraged with little ball to speak of and got away with it in the first two games. But like their game against the Highlanders, the Bulls found life difficult against a top class defence, playing for much of the match against themselves.
Not to take away from the Stormers’ epic effort, but when the bulk of the current Springbok team cannot catch a pass or put more than two phases together, there is a major problem brewing. Their insistence on kicking the ball away more often than not hardly helped their cause and when they did try and run it, they looked sterile and without any penetrating ability.
The Stormers did what they came to do. They stood up physically, made every tackle with a passion that was lacking in the home side, and took their points when they needed to and desperately wanted the victory.
This was not only a watershed moment for the Stormers, but perhaps also a tipping point for South African rugby. Considering the Blue Bulls have lost four games in a row in the Vodacom Cup this season, the problems go a lot deeper than just two losses at Super Rugby level.
But back to the game, the Stormers were exceptional in the loose, bullying the Bulls loose trio and Andries Bekker went from learner to master as he successfully disrupted the Bulls lineouts.
It was evident early on the Stormers were trying to play a more exciting brand of rugby, while the Bulls continued to try their tried and tested game plan, even when it wasn’t working.
Peter Grant’s dead-shot boot kept the scoreboard ticking over, and even while the Bulls were heavily penalised, they found themselves quickly 9-3 down in the first half hour, without having their hands on much of the ball.
Grant took it to 12-3 before the Bulls pounced on a horror mistake by Springbok winger Bryan Habana just before the break to give themselves some hope.
Bjorn Basson’s kick and chase, from a move which started in their own 22 was good, but when Habana came across on the cover defence, tried to gather but only knocked the ball backwards, Basson was there to pounce.
It was another moment that Habana would want to forget, although kudos need to be given to him for making the cross-cover defence move to get there in the first place.
You had to feel for the winger, whose workrate is exceptional, but his touches let him down again on the night. It is only a matter of time before the classy winger finds his feet again, and the Boks do need him to do that soon.
Habana had the last laugh by planting the killer blow, as Dewald Duwenhage, who also had a great game, ripped a ball from Gary Botha and then kicked it downfield. Basson this time was a bit lax, and Habana swooped from behind to claim the ball from underneath his hands to give his team the game.
The Stormers still have a lot of questions to answer in this year’s competition, but as the only unbeaten team in the competition, winning makes those questions easier to answer.
As for the cracks in fortress Loftus, some deep soul-searching will need to be done. In a tournament where local derbies can now be an eight point swing in your conference, the Bulls will be hurting badly. How they bounce back from this will determine whether they have any chance of retaining their title.
Bulls 13- Try: Bjorn Basson. Conversion: Morne Steyn. Penalties: M Steyn (2)
Stormers 23 – Try: Bryan Habana. Penalties: Peter Grant (6).