The Bully Boys weathered a spirited first half by an underpowered Stormers side to emerge 44-13 victors in a Super 14 crank-up at Newlands.
Many expected a spectacle of forward dominance and rampaging one-off runners. What they got was the new season’s premiere of the Bryan Habana show. And on today’s evidence, patrons should not expect the 2006 version to differ significantly from all they came to cherish last year.
The whole catalogue was here. A chargedown in the 30th minute, an outstanding hack ahead and gather in the 52nd, intercept in the 64th, opportunistic poach in the 70th and a classic finish in the 77th. If the Habana of Paris in late November exhibited all the characteristics of a jaded and distracted player, the Habana of Newlands in January showed all the benefits of rest and rejuvenation.
Despite the convincing nature of the scoreline, this was no 80 minute demolition. The home side only trailed 15-13 at the break, and were unlucky to do so. The Bulls edged ahead due to a score against the run of play by Jacques Cronje in the crucial period before halftime that scrumhalf Paul Delport will have replayed in his head at least 30 times by Monday morning.
Delport, architect of the Stormers’ opening (and as it turned out only) score by fullback Justin Peach seemed to let the exhilaration of a quite outstanding half hour affect his concentration. Scrambling back to collect a grubber behind his own goalline, Delport opted not to continue over the deadball line and attempted a suicidal clearance.
The inevitable chargedown and subsequent injury that forced him from the field a few minutes later were an ill-deserved conclusion to an inspired cameo.
On reflection it proved to be the turning point, as the fire that had propelled the Stormers pack to dominate in contact, compete at lineout time and maul effectively drained away. The failure to score a point in the second half is a testament to just how violently the spirit was sucked from their sails.
The battle of the backs saw the home side playing the more enterprising rugby, but were hamstrung by over-exuberance and crucial errors both on defence and attack. In particular, centre pairing Gus Theron and Piet van Zyl’s distribution was appalling. On three occasions in the first half, and a further two in the second, critical passes destined for wingers with time found the touchline.
Built on the back of a pack slowly suffocating the Cape side’s resistance, the Bulls backs battered their way into contention. The massive midfield of Dries Scholtz and JP Nel were used with repetitive glee to bash it up at close quarters, and their punishing runs eventually resulted in the advantage line being crossed with regularity. The almost patented Bulls one-off runners profited, and an entire last 40 defending on the back foot gave Stormers fans an eerie reminder of the last time these sides met in a competitive encounter.
Ultimately, coach Kobus van der Merwe’s positives – so evident at halftime – faded away with every minute of the second. Naas Olivier’s flawless goalkicking was a highlight, in contrast to the misfiring duo of Derick Hougaard and Morne Steyn, and lock Henk Eksteen, flanker Justin Melck and Peach did not disappoint.
Heyneke Meyer arrived in Cape Town on two missions: To continue the north’s domination over the south, and to return to Loftus without adding to his mounting injury list. He achieved both, with the clean bill of health provided by Bulls doctor Tommy Smook perhaps even more valuable than yet another 40-pointer against the old enemy.
Try: Justin Peach
Con: Naas Olivier
Pens: Olivier 2
Tries: Jacques Cronje, Bryan Habana 5 and Chilliboy Ralepelle
Cons: Derick Hougaard and Morne Steyn 2