JON CARDINELLI watched Peter Grant nail a 76th minute penalty to give the Stormers a 20-17 victory against a plucky Bulls outfit at Newlands.
He’s already done it once the season, stepping up to sink a touchline penalty in the dying moments of the match against the Sharks. It may not have been the most difficult kick on this occasion, but considering what it represented in the context of a crunch game and possibly the context of the Stormers’ season, Grant’s contribution shouldn’t be underestimated.
He showed terrific temperament under pressure, and so the Stormers managed to win a match that they deserved to win, but so very nearly conspired to throw away.
With regular goal-kicker Joe Pietersen off the field at that point, it was left to Grant to win this game for the Stormers. His strike was true and greeted with a deafening roar from the Newlands faithful, who recognised the significance of the penalty.
It meant the end of a valiant Bulls challenge, as they had rallied back from a 14-0 deficit to level the scores 17-17 in the dying stages. Grant’s penalty also meant the Stormers maintained their unbeaten record, and ensured that they will travel to Australasia with winning momentum.
But coach Allister Coetzee will admit that there is still much to do in the coming weeks. The ability to control a match for 80 minutes still eludes the Cape franchise, and they are yet to show the killer instinct typical of champion teams.
Their pack continues to impress with each outing, and looked to have set the platform for a comfortable win in the first half. Through their lineout dominance and relentless aggression at the point of contact, the Cape heavies manhandled their Bulls counterparts.
Their intent was apparent from the outset, as Nos 1 through 8 got in the faces of the visitors. They clattered into the collisions at terminal velocity, and yet showed more accuracy than the Bulls at the breakdown.
The pressure applied by the Stormers forwards impacted on the Bulls’ halfbacks, and so Francois Hougaard and Morné Steyn struggled to follow through with the usual kicking game. Steyn’s limitations were again highlighted as his pack battled for go-forward ball. He didn’t kick out of hand with the typical accuracy and authority, and missed two shots at goal.
At one stage the Stormers looked to be cruising to an emphatic win. They finally translated their forward dominance into a clinical try at the end of the first half, and at 14-0, held a comfortable lead. It went from bad to worse for the Bulls when their poor discipline eventually cost them as Flip van der Merwe was sin-binned early in the second stanza.
But it was here that the Bulls showed their class and experience, and where the Stormers were guilty of a lapse in concentration. The Bulls rallied strongly, striking against the run of play with a Bjorn Basson try and a further Steyn penalty. They scored 10 points while Van der Merwe was off the park, while the Stormers managed zero.
A Pietersen penalty kept the Bulls at arm’s length, but the momentum had swung in the visitor’s favour. Wynand Olivier flew in at the right-hand corner and Steyn converted from the touchline to level the scores. It was in this pressure situation where the Bulls seemed better equipped to win, having done so in many tight games over the years.
But the Stormers were not to be denied. While a lapse of concentration had cost them early in the second half, it was composure that pulled them through for a massive win. They played themselves into a good field position, and a powerful scrum earned them a kickable penalty.
Grant obliged with the goal, but it was a team effort that ensured they finished on the right side of the scoreline. They controlled possession and territory in the dying stages, and when the final whistle sounded, they duly celebrated as if they had achieved more than just another league win.
It wasn’t a complete performance by the Stormers, but they will draw confidence from another aggressive forward showing as well as the composure shown at the death. It bodes well for matches against the Reds and Crusaders in Australasia, although they will know that nothing less than a consistent showing Down Under will keep their unbeaten record intact.