Duane Vermeulen blocked a last-minute drop goal attempt to help the Stormers beat the Vodacom Bulls 15-13 at Newlands. JON CARDINELLI reports.
What a finish to an error-strewn yet thrilling derby on Saturday. With seconds remaining on the clock, the Bulls were in sight of an unlikely come-from-behind victory. They had counter-attacked from a Stormers error, and played themselves into the hosts’ 22.
It was at that point that scrumhalf Piet van Zyl threw a wobbly pass to Handré Pollard in the pocket. The Springbok flyhalf collected the ball at his ankles, and attempted to claim the three points that would give the Bulls victory.
Pollard made good contact, but couldn’t clear the determined form of Vermeulen. Despite going down with a shoulder problem early in the first half, the Stormers skipper managed to complete this game. Vermeulen was massively influential at the collisions and breakdowns over the course of the 80, and would make the match-deciding play in the final minute.
If not for the Bok No 8 using all of his will and physical ability to shut down Pollard, that kick may have gone over. The Bulls would have won, and to be fair, that would have been a fair result given the flow of play in the second half.
The Stormers led 12-3 at the break thanks to the goal-kicking of Demetri Catrakilis. And yet, the Cape side would fail to build on that lead in the second stanza.
The Bulls hit back strongly first through a great counter-attack try by Bjorn Basson, and then through the cool goal-kicking of Pollard. The visitors fought their way back to within one score of the hosts.
And it was some fightback. The Bulls scrum rallied to outmuscle the much-vaunted Stormers eight. The Bulls forwards also had the better of the Cape side at the lineouts and at the breakdown. They were the better side in the latter stages.
The Stormers began to feel the pressure. Their lineout feeds did not find the mark. They lost the ball in contact, and kicked the ball away aimlessly.
The home coaches also erred in pulling Catrakilis off in the 56th minute. His replacement, Kurt Coleman, made some amateurish errors. Had the Stormers lost, more would have been made about that substitution.
But ultimately it came down to one play. The man of the moment, Vermeulen, read it superbly, charging at Pollard to deny the Bulls a last-gasp victory. It will be remembered as a massive moment, not only in the context of this game, but in the context of the Stormers’ season.
The win sees the Cape side going to the top of the South African conference. While the Bulls will lament a missed opportunity, the losing bonus point ensures that they are just one log point behind the Stormers in the local division.
Stormers – Penalties: Demetri Catrakilis (5).
Bulls – Try: Bjorn Basson. Conversion: Handré Pollard. Penalties: Pollard (2).
Stormers – 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Johnny Kotze, 13 Juan de Jongh (c), 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Pat Howard, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Duane Vermeulen (c), 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Schalk Burger, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Subs: 16 Scarra Ntubenii, 17 Oliver Kebble, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Jean Kleyn, 20 Nizaam Carr, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Kurt Coleman, 23 Huw Jones.
Bulls – 15 Jesse Kriel, 14 Francois Hougaard, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Pierre Spies (c), 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Dean Greyling.
Subs: 16 Callie Visagie, 17 Morné Mellett, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Arno Botha, 20 Lappies Labuschagne, 21 Akona Ndungane, 22 Tian Schoeman, 23 Jurgen Visser.
Photo: Carl Fourie/Gallo Images