A dominant first half carried the Stormers to an opening match win against a resurgent Bulls side, winning 37-24 at Newlands.
The Stormers piled on the pressure in the first half in a match which seemed to end as a contest after 40 minutes. In reality, it was only just heating up, and the Bulls came charging back to steal the bonus point away from the home side and create some momentum as they start their 2017 season.
The Stormers and Bulls kicked off at a well attended Newlands to cap off the opening weekend of the 2017 Super Rugby season. Almost immediately a Stormer’s turnover led to a 90-metre change in field position, but with the Stormers in the ascendancy an ill-advised stamp by hooker, Bongi Mbonambi, allowed the Bulls to thump the ball clear.
The home side were keen to pour on the pressure though and after a high tackle in the Bulls’ half, winger Dillyn Leyds took a quick tap to take his side into the opposition 22. Another error led to a Bulls’ scrum which they were very lucky to keep, under enormous pressure, the Bulls just about managed to clear their lines in a game that they were now clinging onto by their fingertips.
It was an absolutely breathless first 15 minutes and an electric break by Bulls’ wing Jamba Ulengo was snuffed out by a holding on penalty thanks to the great work of Eben Etzebeth. The penalty was taken quickly and scrum-half Jano Vermaak broke through the unorganised defence to feed full-back SP Marais who cantered home for a stunning opening try, the conversion was added by Jean-Luc du Plessis.
Almost immediately, Stormers’ pressure from the kick-off allowed Du Plessis to step up again to make the score 10-0. After 20 minutes there had been almost no time when the ball wasn’t in play but a penalty on the Stormers’ 10-metre line allowed Handré Pollard to step up and take a shot at goal which he pushed it wide.
The Bulls were still in the game but they were under huge pressure in all parts of the field, a hack downfield by winger Cheslin Kolbe resulted in a scrum under the posts. The Bulls were driven back but clung onto the ball and sent it into touch just outside the 22.
The Stormers though were keen to press home their early dominance and the ball was moved along the line. A low pass was taken wonderfully by centre EW Viljoen who then stubbed through a perfectly weighted kick to send Kolbe over for the second try, Du Plessis continued his perfect kicking record to make it 17-0.
The game was lurching towards half-time but the Stormers had one more nail to hammer into the coffin. After a rare Bulls’ attack was ended the Stormers began their march up the pitch and to a five-metre scrum. The phases were growing and despite some brave defensive work, centre Damian de Allende was on hand to put Nizaam Carr through a huge hole with a beautiful pass. Du Plessis was once again able to add the easy conversion to push the score out to 24-0 as the clock hit 40.
The Bulls had been pretty inept in all areas during the first half but they struck back immediately with a fantastic piece of handling to score in the corner. A high tackle gave the away side an advantage and Pollard chipped over to gather himself, he set up a ruck in front of the posts and as it was moved along the line, winger Travis Ismaiel was able to slip the ball through to Hanro Liebenberg to allow the number eight to go over in the corner – Pollard failed to add the extras.
Du Plessis had the opportunity to steady the Stormers’ ship but he sliced his kick wide from 47 metres to hand possession back to the resurgent Bulls.
It was a short-lived resistance though by the Bulls, the home side’s attack was too quick and Vermaak hit the short side to put captain Siya Kolisi through for a well taken try in the corner, the difficult conversion wasn’t added but the Stormers retook their 24-point lead.
The Bulls wouldn’t lie down though and some hard running by Ismaiel set up a short pass to Pierre Schoeman who flopped over for the try and reduced the deficit to 29-12.
The Bulls were slowing down and a converted penalty by Du Plessis eased some of the pressure on the Cape Town side. The game was seesawing madly though and a handling error by Viljoen allowed Dries Swanepoel to race clear. The centre was hauled down but the ball was recycled quickly and after a couple of phases it was moved by stand in scrum half Warrick Gelant, to Jamba Ulengo who flicked on to Liebenberg to put the eight through again in the corner.
Both teams had given up playing outside of the 22 and another light speed attack by the Stormers ended with the ball being spread wide and Leyds crashing over to add another try, the conversion was missed and the gap was increased again to 20 points.
With 10 minutes left to play, the game had gone for the Bulls but they were keeping the try gap to just two and therefore preventing the Stormers from taking the bonus point. Another Stormers’ foray into the opposition 22 led to a penalty and a yellow card for replacement prop Lizo Gqoboka for pilfering the ball off his feet.
The Stormers’ attack, so clinical up to the point, broke down and handling errors and mistakes at the breakdown allowed the Bulls to break clear and replacement scrum half Piet Van Zyl took a tap penalty ten metres out and went over for a final try to leave the Bulls just one converted try away from a bonus point of their own.
Despite the win, the Stormers will be wondering how they turned a 24-0 half time lead into just four game points. Meanwhile, the Bulls will be able to take confidence from their resurgent second half performance. The Stormers will remain at home to face the Jaguares next week whilst the Bulls will remain on the road as they take on the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.
Tries: Marais, Kolbe, Carr, Kolisi, Leyds
Cons: Du Plessis 3
Pens: Du Plessis 2
Tries: Liebenberg 2, P Schoeman, Van Zyl
Cons: Pollard, T Schoeman
Pens: Du Plessis 2
Stormers: 15 SP Marais, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Siya Kolisi (c), 6 Rynhardt Elstadt, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth (vc), 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg
Replacements: 16 Ramone Samuels, 17 Oli Kebble, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Chris van Zyl, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Dewaldt Duvenage, 22 Dan Kriel, 23 Rob du Preez
Bulls: 15 Jesse Kriel, 14 Jamba Ulengo, 13 Dries Swanepoel, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Travis Ismaiel, 10 Handre Pollard(c), 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Hanro Liebenberg, 7 Jacques Potgieter, 6 Nick de Jager, 5 RG Snyman, 4 Lood de Jager, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Pierre Schoeman
Replacements: 16 Edgar Marutlulle, 17 Jacobie Adriaanse, 18 Lizo Gqoboka, 19 Jason Jenkins, 20 Ruan Steenkamp, 21 Piet van Zyl, 22 Tian Schoeman, 23 Warrick Gelant
Referee: Jaco van Heerden (South Africa)
Assistant Referees: Shuhei Kubo (Japan), Stuart Berry (South Africa)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)