The Vodacom Stormers fought valiantly for 80 minutes, but at the end of their opening Vodacom Super 14 match the Bulls left the field victoriously – winning a tense and hard-fought game 16-9.
The home team led 9-7 at halftime after dictating most of the play for the first 40 minutes. It was the best performance by a Stormers team in a long while and that augurs well for the new era under coach Rassie Erasmus.
Up until the last seconds the home side had a chance to make the scores level thanks to the brilliance of fullback Gio Aplon, but unfortunately for them the last move came to nothing after a loose pass that went over the touchline.
The Stormers started passionately, taking the game to the defending champions via a pack that looks ready to take on the big guns this season. The Cape side, however, made far too many errors and that eventually cost them the match.
Several promising movements didn’t bare fruit because of spilled balls in the tackle and a few times the wrong options also contributed to the frustration.
Stormers supporters at least now know they have a pack that would not succumb when the going gets tough. It was a positive start and the almost 48 000 spectators that packed Newlands could go home in good spirits.
In the 3rd minute Stormers flyhalf Peter Grant failed with a 52m penalty kick attempt after the Bulls transgressed at a ruck.
Two minutes later the Bulls strayed offside after sustained pressure from the Stormers forwards who systematically and clinically took the ball up into the visitor’s territory.
This time Grant made no mistake with an angled kick from 28m out to hand his side the early ascendancy on the scoreboard.
In the 17th minute Grant again coolly slotted a penalty after the Bulls were penalized for offside play to make the lead 6-0.
In the 25th the Stormers again hit the Bulls with conviction on the attack, first Bobo steamrollered through the defence before forcing a ruck. The Jean de Villiers got a short pass away to Tiaan Liebenberg and then centre Gcobani Bobo again hit the line hard to cross the line under a heap of bodies.
Referee Willie Roos consulted the Television Match Offiical, who ruled no try.
The Stormers mustered a monster scrum, forcing the Bulls to go offside. Grant’s aim was perfect and much to the delight of the jubilant home supporters he stretched the lead to 9-0.
It was the Bulls though through perennial try-poacher Habana who scored the first try in the 36th minute. The Bulls attacked strongly through No 8 Pedrie Wannenburg and scrumhalf Fourie du Preez, but Francois Louw stole the ball when it came out of the side of a ruck.
The Bulls got it back though and Du Preez passed to his left for Habana to stroll through untouched. The Springbok wing injured his shoulder when diving over. Flyhalf Derick Hougaard added two points to make the score 9-7.
That was also the halftime score. After halftime Marius Delport was on the left wing for Habana.
The Bulls took the lead in the 47th minute via a Hougaard penalty after Stormers wing Sereli Naqelevuki was penalized for a dangerous tackle on his opposite number, John Mametsa.
Former Bulls lock Adriaan Fondse replaced Francois van der Merwe in the 54th minute to get his Stormers debut against his former team-mates. At the same time Schalk Brits and Brok Harrris replaced Francois Louw and Brian Mujati respectively.
Brits, normally a hooker, packed down at the flank. The Bulls brought on prop Jaco Engels in place of Gurthro Steenkamp.
The Bulls stretched their lead with a penalty by Hougaard in the 63rd minute after Liebenberg was penalized for a high tackle (13-9).
In the 66th minute Bolla Conradie replaced Enrico Januarie at scrumhalf for the home team.
Hougaard, however, denied the Stormers the dream start their supporters had hoped for by slotting a penalty in the 78th minute to clinch the game for his side.
Vodacom Stormers – Penalties: Peter Grant (3).
Vodacom Bulls – Try: Bryan Habana; Conversion: Derick Hougaard; Penalties: Derick Hougaard (3).