The Bulls managed to stave off a late Stormers surge to win 14-10 at Loftus Versfeld.
Fixtures between the two rivals usually showcase their contrasting styles, but from the outset the Stormers tried to beat the Bulls at their own game. Attacking play rarely shifted past Jean de Villiers as horse-for-the-course Willem de Waal attempted to kick the cover off the ball.
The Stormers fronted at scrum-time, and thanks to Chiliboy Ralepelle’s wayward throwing the Bulls failed to dominate the lineout. The clamour of the crowd reflected the on-field energy with both sets of loosies unrelentingly belligerent in their quest for breakdown supremacy. The Stormers tried their best to slow the Bulls’ momentum, but while the visitors defended well, they took liberties at the tackle point and after 37 minutes Schalk Brits was yellow-carded for negative play.
The Loftus faithful certainly had an impact giving Luke Watson the bird whenever he touched the ball. Involved in an off-the-ball scuffle, Watson received a particularly venomous rebuke. The Stormers No 8 responded with an inadvertently comical ‘I can’t hear you’, which had the blue army out of their chairs. To be fair, it was the most entertaining bit of the first half.
The Bulls went to a 6-3 half-time lead thanks to the boot of Morne Steyn, but only really got going after the break. Victor Matfield made an impact off the bench, and the Bulls forwards began to find holes around the fringes. Those little offloads began to go to hand, and a wonderful interchange resulted in a try to Wynand Olivier.
Brits returned and the Stormers began to use the width of the field, but the Bulls defence was just too strong. De Waal, as expected, was one-dimensional on attack, and after he attempted a second drop goal, he was subbed for Peter Grant. The question remains why De Waal was ever preferred to a player in contention for the Springbok flyhalf position.
The Big Blue Machine only grew stronger as time progressed, and Steyn slotted a 55th minute drop goal to extend the Bulls lead to 14-3. But complacency afflicted their game, a clear example being when Matfield butchered a certain try. The Bok lock grubbered 5m from the tryline, wasting an overlap that surely would have lifted the Bulls to a commanding 19-3 advantage.
The Stormers made the Bulls pay for another average piece of rugby when Deon Fourie surged through some sloppy defence and rounded the goal posts. At 14-10 with just over 10 to play, the undeserved Stormers were on the verge of an upset. But the pressure told with dropped balls and the determined Bulls defence crushing the Stormers hopes.
The Cape franchise will be hard pressed to make the top four from here and will need to beat the Lions next week. The Bulls maintain their unbeaten run and top-of-the-log standing, but they’ll also need to become more clinical.
By Jon Cardinelli