Bulls were bullied in brutal contest

MARK KEOHANE, in his weekly Business Day column, says the Super Rugby match at Newlands on Saturday evening was a great advertisement for South African rugby.

The Stormers and Bulls produced an electric contest, which was complemented by an electric atmosphere.

The Stormers were worthy winners and it would have been an injustice — on the night’s performance — had the Bulls even left the stadium with a share of the spoils, which looked the likely outcome with the teams at 17-17 after 77 minutes.

The Bulls were courageous in everything they did, but the cleverness in tactical approach did not match the bravery in the collisions and at the breakdown.

The Stormers bullied the Bulls in contact and the manner in which the final three points were fashioned — from a scrum penalty — was befitting the home team’s set-phase superiority. Young Stormers prop Steven Kitshoff, in particular, produced the effort of a veteran and emphasised his enormous potential.

Stormers coach Allister Coetzee and forwards coach Matthew Proudfoot got the selections right from numbers one to eight and each one of the starting pack contributed to a night worth remembering if you just happened to be at Loftus on that awful afternoon some years back when the Bulls scored 75 points against the Stormers.

The Cape Town franchise have come a long way since their lowest point in Super Rugby history and the Bulls have maintained a consistency that makes them SA’s premier provincial and regional side.

The Stormers certainly are no longer the powder-puff brigade and no one can accuse them of being show ponies, although their attack certainly could do with a show pony or two. I had the Bulls to win by 10 because I backed their pack to do enough to give their impressive backs enough ammunition with which to fire.

I got it wrong and the Stormers got it very right because in this most brutal of contests the home team always held an advantage in every collision. Games of this nature are decided by who has an edge in every tackle or every attempt to break the tackle, and I was surprised at how decisively the Stormers dealt with the Bulls forwards-inspired attack.

The Bulls backs were not a factor because the forwards never built momentum and simply did not have any individual or collective ascendancy in determining gainline advantage.

Given the superiority in the contact and the quality of ball given to the backs, the Stormers still struggled to convince on attack and the backs, as a unit, were as impotent as the forwards were potent.

Ironically — and I use the word because he is seen as the glue that keeps the Stormers backs together — captain Jean de Villiers’s structured style is a restriction to the Stormers attack when once he was a revelation in all things creative.

De Villiers shoulders so much defensive responsibility that the natural attacking instincts of his game have suffered.

The Bulls — and most definitely former Stormer Johann Sadie — will learn from the experience at Newlands and they left with a valuable bonus point, while the Stormers got four quality league points.

In a sense it was a win-win for the South African challenge in the competition.

Our two best teams each got something for their efforts, but the Stormers maximised the advantage of playing at home.

Elsewhere, the Cheetahs produced the most inspired performance in their Super Rugby history to turn a 32-11 deficit after 25 minutes into a 47-38 win against the Hurricanes in Wellington, and complete their most successful Super Rugby overseas adventure.

The victory was their second in four tour matches and with a bit of good fortune the Cheetahs could well have won all four matches overseas. They lost to the Brumbies in the last minute and had the chance to beat the Crusaders. It has been a brilliant month for the boys from Bloem, more so because they left SA after taking 50 points from the Bulls in Bloemfontein.

The Cheetahs’ win was also another reminder that to be successful in Super Rugby you need a pack with grunt, as much as you need gifted game breakers. The Canes were feeble up front and the Cheetahs were colossal in the last hour of the match. It proved to be the difference in a fantastic match.

The Sharks continue to battle with the search for an imposing back five in their pack but they did well to beat a confident, if limited, Brumbies outfit in Canberra.

The Lions were again the disappointment of the weekend — and each week shows that they are not good enough. Coach John Mitchell has given them belief and structure and they are the team who best use the width of the park in attack, but they don’t possess the class of player to make all these ingredients a winning recipe.