Marcell Coetzee impressed as the Bulls claimed a thrilling 31-27 comeback win over the Stormers, but the result was overshadowed by an injury scare to Duane Vermeulen.
There will now be a real nervy wait for the Springbok coaches and certainly Vermeulen, who picked up what looked to be a worrying ankle injury in the first half.
He hobbled from the field and immediately strapped an ice pack to his ankle, but had to be helped down the tunnel at half-time.
It’s likely he will now be sent for a scan to determine the severity of the injury, with the Bulls captain conspicuous by his absence from the post-match TV interviews.
Ironically, a potential Bok replacement should the injury prove to be serious is none other than Coetzee, who enjoyed a standout Bulls debut.
He scored a try and was industrious throughout the clash, making a number of meaningful carries, powerful tackles and neat offloads.
An area of immense concern for all Springbok fans will not only be the injury to Vermeulen, but also Herschel Jantjies.
With the British and Irish Lions series now only weeks away the Boks cannot afford to have their key men ruled out, but the hope will be that Jantjies’ removal from play was more precautionary than anything else.
It was a nervy start on the highveld for both sides packed with Springboks and those with national ambitions. The Stormers struck first through the boot of flyhalf Tim Swiel to open a slender lead.
As the sides exchanged heavy blows in the midfield the ball came loose off of Cornal Hendricks and was hacked ahead by Edwill van der Merwe who showed all his lightning pace in the chase.
Damian Willemse capitalised from the turnover at the resulting ruck and dotted down to stretch the Stormers’ lead to 10 points.
Willemse went from hero to villain only moments later as the referees ruled a deliberate knock-on against the Stormers fullback who was sent to the bin for his indiscretion.
The Bulls made the most of the man advantage with Coetzee crashing over off of the back of a driving maul. It was the fairytale start for the Springbok loose forward at his new club. Morne Steyn slotted the conversion to bring the Bulls back within three.
Things went from bad to worse for the Stormers as centre Rikus Pretorius soon joined Willemse in the bin, again for a deliberate knockdown. In the Stormers’ red zone the Bulls looked to have been over for their second try only for the referees to rule it out due to a forward pass.
The Bulls continued their first half assault and dominated both possession and territory. The Stormers, however, were Trojan in defence and held on to deny the Bulls any momentum.
Madosh Tambwe scored his second disallowed try of the evening, this time ruled out after a successful captain’s Challenge found foul play at the preceding ruck.
After absorbing a tsunami of pressure the Stormers eventually found a release, scoring through Edwill van der Merwe to reinstate their 10 point lead heading into half time.
There was a huge momentum shift in favour of the Bulls at the start of second half as hooker Johan Grobbelaar barreled over for a brace and Morne Steyn converted both for a four-point lead.
The action didn’t die down as the Stormers responded in kind when Rosko Specman’s delayed pass released Swiel for a score that put the visitors ahead again.
With a one-point difference between them, the Bulls looked to be over for all money when Coetzee’s stunning offload freed up David Kriel to cross the tryline. But the try was overruled for a forward pass in the lead-up. The would hit the front eventually when Steyn slotted a penalty, but no sooner had they regained the lead and the Stormers snatched it back when Van Merwe stepped and stretched to dot down.
But late drama followed when the Bulls bashed away at the Stormers line in the dying seconds and eventually unlocked the defence with mere seconds on the clock.
In his first game as a Bull, Coetzee delivered an impressive display, reminding the local audience in general and the Bok coaches in particular just what he is capable off and what he can offer in a national context.
Hendricks was another who produced a colossal performance in midfield and strengthened his quest for a Bok recall.
On the Stormers side, Pieter-Steph du Toit marked his return to the starting lineup with good performance, but more importantly, got more game time under the belt and remained injury-free.
Photo: Gallo Images