In the second instalment of a new article series from the SA Rugby magazine team, JON CARDINELLI reflects on a Vodacom Super Rugby match he will never forget.
The 2010 Super 14 final was special for so many reasons. At the time, South Africa was preparing for the Fifa World Cup and traditional venues, such as Loftus Versfeld, were not available for Super Rugby matches. As a result, the Bulls hosted the decider against the Stormers at the Orlando Stadium.
How would the locals respond when two of the biggest teams in world rugby visited the iconic football stadium in the heart of Soweto? My colleagues and I pondered this question and others as the media bus rolled toward the township.
The atmosphere started to build in the hours leading up to kick-off. It took some time to adjust to the noise inside the stadium, as the vuvuzelas blared and the multiracial crowd began to sing in the stands.
I was not prepared for what followed. The decibel level spiked when the contest began.
I shook my head as the writer seated to my right asked a question. It takes a lot to drown out the booming voice of Gavin Rich. ‘What was that penalty for?’ he screamed into my ear.
The majority of the crowd supported the Bulls. They cheered whenever the ‘home side’ won a high ball or repelled a Stormers attack. They danced and sang when the team in blue scored. When the Stormers received a chance to shoot for goal, they blasted their vuvuzelas in an attempt to put kicker Peter Grant off.
It was a mad and brilliant atmosphere. And on the field of play, the Bulls delivered one of the great tactical performances.
The forwards met the challenge of their Stormers counterparts. They won the big moments and provided the platform for their backs to implement a well-known and highly effective gameplan.
Fourie du Preez and Morne Steyn were at their best on that occasion. Even now, some 10 years later, coaches may be inclined to show their charges footage of the great Bulls halfbacks in an attempt to illustrate how one can control a big contest via a accurate tactical-kicking performance.
A few of the romantics complained later, but for the purists, it was an absolute delight.
Du Preez’s impact in other areas was significant. The Springbok scrumhalf showcased his sublime vision and execution when he put Francois Hougaard away for a try in the 25th minute.
The Bulls were up 9-0 at that stage. Zane Kirchner carried the ball down the left-hand side. Hougaard – who served as an excellent wing for the Bulls that season – was forced to clean at the subsequent ruck. The ball was recycled and Du Preez hit Pierre Spies on the open side, and the No 8 went on to repel a couple of defenders before being brought to ground.
Meanwhile, Hougaard had arced round from the blindside. He prepared to take a short ball from Du Preez at the next phase.
Du Preez was evidently awake to the opportunity. The Stormers failed to defend the area around the ruck, and a gap was left between the two locks. From a standing start, Hougaard exploded on to Du Preez’s pass.
The fans rose to their feet as the Bulls wing surged into open space. Hougaard had one man to beat and, in the end, you had to feel sorry for Joe Pietersen. Hougaard danced around the Stormers fullback, who could only dive despairingly to his left.
Hougaard launched his body six feet into the air for his trademark splashdown finish. Steyn converted the try to ensure that the Bulls stretched their lead to 16-0.
The Stormers fought back to add some respectability to the scoreline. The game ended 25-17 in the Bulls’ favour, and while there were a few complaints down in Cape Town about referee Craig Joubert’s decisions, most agreed that Frans Ludeke’s charges were full value as Super 14 champions.
It was a privilege to witness the Bulls when they were at the peak of their powers. The result marked the Bulls’ third Super Rugby title in four years.
A joke was made at the post-match media conference which suggested that the Bulls could not get any better. It proved to be prophetic, as the Pretoria-based side battled to qualify for the playoffs in subsequent years, let alone push for a fourth title.
I asked Stormers coach Allister Coetzee where his team had fallen short. The scoreline suggested the game was close, but the reality was that the Stormers, with their inferior kicking game, were never in control.
Coetzee admitted that the franchise had to develop their kicking game and attack in future seasons. Unfortunately, it became a familiar refrain when the Stormers bombed out of the playoffs in 2011, 2012 and 2015.
To this day, the Stormers are still searching for a halfback pairing that can control a contest.
Photo: Duif du Toit/Gallo Images