The DHL Stormers had their fans at Loftus Versfeld screaming with delight on Saturday night as they upset the Vodacom Bulls 29-17 for their first SuperRugby win in Pretoria since 2012.
While the small but noticeable group of Stormers supporters left Loftus thrilled by their underdogs pulling off a surprisingly convincing victory over the highly-rated Bulls, the home fans were left contemplating how, for all the talk of a new era, their team played much as they did last year. The Bulls were flat, did not make enough use of their possession, wasting a lot of it through basic errors, and their scrum was always under pressure.
In fact, it was even worse than last year because the Bulls were undefeated at home in the 2014 SuperRugby competition.
And it had all started so promisingly for the Bulls as wing Bjorn Basson came bursting through on a lovely switch, earning a fourth-minute penalty for offsides. The Bulls bravely kicked it to touch and their rolling maul steamrolled over the line, with flank Deon Stegmann getting the opening try.
And then fullback Jurgen Visser dropped a regulation kick ahead by Dillyn Leyds, which the Stormers wing picked up as he followed through, racing over the line for the visitors’ first try. From then on, the Bulls’ wheels began falling off.
Flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis kicked a penalty and then eighthman Duane Vermeulen came storming through on an angled run to score the second try, with centre Damian de Allende shaking off several defenders to make the try-scoring pass.
By now the Stormers were winning the scrum battle hands down and were defending with tremendous ferocity, while also carrying the ball with greater intensity than the home side.
Going into the break with a 5-17 deficit, the Bulls desperately needed to lift themselves in the second half and they played with greater accuracy and urgency in the third quarter.
Flyhalf Handre Pollard, having missed his first three kicks at goal in the first half, succeeded with a 42nd-minute penalty after strong runs by eighthman Pierre Spies and lock Jacques du Plessis.
Pollard registered further penalties in the 48th (after Basson claimed a fine take in the air), 54thand 60th minutes, while Catrakilis kept his perfect record intact with a 51st-minute penalty.
But the shaky foundation at the scrum and the tremendous Stormers defence meant that the Bulls were often running up blind alleys and the visitors finished the match strongly.
De Allende, a shining light in the Stormers backline, almost scored but was forced out on the corner flag by Jan Serfontein and Pollard, but it still led to another penalty for Catrakilis (23-17).
His replacement, Kurt Coleman, slotted a penalty in the 73rd minute as another Bulls scrum came crashing down, and then a drop goal two minutes from time, widened the wound for the Bulls into a gaping gash.
For all their talk about raising the tempo of their play, there still seemed to be too many Bulls carthorses in comparison to the livewire, all-action Stormers.
The decision to sign tighthead prop Vincent Koch on a loan deal from the Pumas looks a masterstroke as he gave the Stormers scrum a tremendous foundation, as well as being a force in the loose.
Locks Ruan Botha and Jean Kleyn also looked full of promise and there are plenty of promising signs for the Stormers for the season ahead.
Bulls: Try – Deon Stegmann. Penalties – Handre Pollard (4).
Stormers: Tries – Dillyn Leyds, Duane Vermeulen. Conversions – Demetri Catrakilis (2). Penalties – Catrakilis (3), Kurt Coleman. Drop goal – Coleman