Bulls put boot into Stormers
JON CARDINELLI watched Morné Steyn steer the Bulls to a well deserved 25-17 victory over the Stormers at Loftus Versfeld.
Put simply, the Bulls took their opportunities, and the Stormers squandered theirs. The Bulls' limitations may be exposed later in the competition, and the Stormers may become a more dangerous prospect when they have had time to settle. But on the basis of what was witnessed in Pretoria on Friday, the Bulls were the better team.
Steyn was the better flyhalf, controlling the game superbly and goaling every penalty and conversion on offer. This allowed the Bulls to build a healthy first-half lead as well as some momentum. It was because of Steyn that the Bulls were able to force the Stormers to do what they hate most, which is chase the game.
That being said, credit must also go to the Stormers for contributing to their own demise.
It was always going to be a gamble to start Elton Jantjies at flyhalf in a high-pressure contest of this nature. Jantjies had been granted compassionate leave following the death of his father, and had missed the Stormers' warm-up matches. This meant that he would start the Super Rugby season having not enjoyed any game time in 2013, nor the chance to play alongside new team-mates at a new franchise.
It was evident from his first attempt at goal that neither Jantjies' body nor mind was up to the task. He sliced the ball horribly, and the Stormers missed an opportunity to draw level with the Bulls.
The match continued in this vein, with Steyn slotting penalties at one end of the park, and Jantjies pushing them wide at the other. The Bulls moved to a 12-0 lead early in the second half, and were winning comfortably without playing particularly well. The Stormers, through Jantjies, had missed four shots at goal by this point, and it was because of a lack of faith in Jantjies that skipper Jean de Villiers also turned down two very kickable penalties.
De Villiers, however, would have felt vindicated when his second decision to boot the ball to touch ultimately yielded seven points. The Stormers' wobbly lineout finally managed to secure the ball, and after controlling possession smartly, the Stormers would score through the captain himself. A touchline conversion by replacement Joe Pietersen also allowed the visitors to reduce the deficit to just five points.
Pietersen then popped another penalty over the bar, and suddenly the momentum was with the Stormers. Their lineout started to function, and with Pietersen taking over the goal-kicking duties, a comeback was on the cards
But that period of dominance didn't last.
Steyn continued to kick the Bulls into excellent field positions, and when the Stormers' scrum disintergated, it was Steyn who made the visitors pay for their transgressions.
Six quick points put the Bulls back in the pound seats at 18-10, and once again, it would be up to the Stormers to play catch-up rugby. It was also during this passage of play where De Villiers gave away a silly penalty for slapping the ball out of Francois Hougaard's hands. This action summed up the Stormers' frustrations as well as their lack of discipline.
The momentum shifted again, and a fortuitous call by the TMO would put the result beyond doubt. Standing at the base of the ruck near the Stormers' tryline, Hougaard kicked a grubber for his team-mates to chase. Chiliboy Ralepelle turned from an offside position and raced towards the ball, collected it, and dotted down. The TMO ruled that the ball had ricocheted off a Stormers player, and that Ralepelle was onside, but having looked at the replay, the only thing that seemed clear to me was that this was not conclusive.
But the Stormers cannot claim they were robbed. The subsequent conversion to Ralepelle's score took the hosts to a 25-10 lead, but even if they had not scored that try, they would have come back for a penalty advantage. And with Steyn in flawless form, you'd have to say they would've added another three points.
The Stormers finished the game strongly with a try by Andries Bekker, and Pietersen's conversion took the score to 25-17. In a way, Pietersen's contributions only served to rub salt into the wounds.
Had the Stormers fielded a reliable goal-kicker from the outset, they may have come away with a valuable win. Jantjies missed four from four attempts, while Pietersen kicked three from three. Those stats tell a story, and the Stormers will regret the missed opportunity of a victory at Loftus.
Bulls – Try: Chiliboy Ralepelle. Conversion: Morné Steyn. Penalties: Steyn (6).
Stormers – Tries: Jean de Villiers, Andries Bekker. Conversions: Joe Pietersen (2). Penalty: Pietersen.
Bulls – 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Lionel Mapoe, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies (c), 7 Dewald Potgieter, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Juandre Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Morne Mellett.
Subs: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Grant Hattingh, 19 Arno Botha, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Louis Fouche, 22 Francois Venter.
Stormers – 15 Jaco Taute, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Jean de Villiers (c), 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 De Kock Steenkamp, 3 Pat Cilliers, 2 Deon Fourie, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Subs: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Frans Malherbe, 18 Don Armand, 19 Nizaam Carr, 20 Dewaldt Duvenage, 21 Gerhard van den Heever, 22 Joe Pietersen.