31 May 2010
Vuvuzelas blared and Soweto celebrated an all-South African Super 14 final on Saturday night as the Bulls beat the Stormers 25-17 to claim their third title in four years.
Bulls’ skipper Victor Matfield, interviewed after the match, said: “It’s an awesome day for us and it’s a great day for our country. It’s a special day that everyone will remember for a long, long time.
“We knew what was coming, but I am not sure what they (the Stormers) were expecting. Playing in front of a full house with vuvuzelas was absolutely amazing.”
The only drawback, conceded lineout king Matfield, was that the vuvuzelas made it difficult to hear the lineout calls.
Stormers’ captain Schalk Burger felt his team let the game get away from them in the early going and that made it difficult to come back.
‘We knew they were going to blitz us’
“We knew what was coming. We knew they were going to blitz us and it was disappointing that we managed to give them such a big lead early in the game,” said the fiery flanker.
Looking forward, he expressed the hope that reaching the Super 14 final was the start of good things to come for the Stormers in the future. That future will no longer include the Super 14, as from 2011 the competition becomes the Super 15 with the inclusion of the Melbourne Rebels.
As the countdown to kick off ran down, a festive atmosphere reigned at the Orlando Stadium and in the areas surrounding the ground, and there was a noticeable mix of attire among supporters with some choosing to show off both their rugby and football affiliations.
One of the big storylines entering the final was that of offense against defence. The Bulls were the leading scorers in the Super 14 competition and the Stormers were the best defensive team.
In fact, the Bulls’ 436 points were the most scored in a season since the competition had changed to 14 teams in 2006. The 171 points conceded by the Stormers was the least given up in that time.
Another big theme leading into the final was that of experience versus inexperience, with the Bulls playing in their third final in four years and the Stormers contesting their first.
The more important of the two factors in the final proved to be experience as the Bulls put in a superb opening spell to all but take the contest away from their southern rivals.
They put their opponents under huge pressure and forced them to concede a number of penalties which proved costly as flyhalf Morne Steyn punished them for each indiscretion, except for one attempt on goal late in the match.
Steyn was first given an opportunity to score points in the ninth minute when the Stormers took a scrum down. He responded with clinical efficiency, splitting the posts from 28 metres out to give the Bulls a 3-0 lead.
Five minutes later, after exerting pressure through a pick-and-drive approach, Steyn kicked another penalty from almost directly in front of the uprights, inside the Stormers’ 22-metre area.
When Duane Vermeulen was blown up for not rolling away at a ruck in the 21st minute, Steyn had an opportunity to extend the defending champions’ lead. He was bang on target from a position very similar to that of his first kick.
Shortly after that, Francois Hougaard struck another blow for the Bulls with a stunning try.
Scrumhalf Fourie du Preez broke away to the right from a ruck just behind the Stormers’ 10-metre line and just to the left of the middle of the field. As Du Preez drew a defender, Hougaard came flying up on his right shoulder and took a short pass that saw him slice through the Stormers’ backline, leaving only Joe Pietersen to beat.
With plenty of space in front of him, Hougaard was able to round Pietersen with an inside, outside feint. He executed an extravagant dive to score under the posts and Steyn’s easy conversion put the Bulls into a convincing 16-0 lead.
The Stormers came back with a nicely controlled attack, moving the ball to the left and then to the right. They reached the Bulls’ tryline, but conceded a turnover and the Pretoria-based side was able to ease the pressure for a while.
However, after half-an-hour, the Stormers were rewarded for their dogged efforts when they won a penalty about 22 metres out and to the left of the poles. Sure-footed flyhalf Peter Grant landed the kick and scored the visitors’ first points.
When the Stormers’ stubborn defence stymied the Bulls, flyhalf Steyn shook things up with an attempted drop goal, but his kick passed to the right of the uprights.
At half-time, the Bulls led 16-3.
Shortly after the restart, Grant had an opportunity to reduce the deficit when the Stormers were awarded a penalty after a dangerous tackle. The flyhalf’s kick was never on target and the gap remained at 13 points.
Most of the action was taking place in the middle of the field, but 14 minutes into the second stanza it moved to the end zone when Bryan Habana, a Super 14 winner with the Bulls in 2009, intercepted a pass by Morne Steyn and raced away to score under the posts. Grant converted to make the score 16-10 and bring the contest to life.
When the Stormers were penalised for taking down the scrum once more, Steyn opened the gap to beyond one score with another penalty which made it 19-10 with just over an hour played.
The Stormers had a chance to pull three points back when they won a penalty deep in Bulls’ territory, but referee Craig Joubert was informed by one of the assistant referees that Andries Bekker had entered a ruck illegally and the penalty decision was reversed.
A minute later, Steyn landed a penalty after Vermeulen was blown up for entering a ruck from the side.
With five minutes to play, another scrum was dropped by the Stormers and punished by Steyn, who raised his contribution to the Bulls’ cause to 20 points, and put them into a 15-point lead, at 25-10, with five minutes to play.
The Stormers attacked desperately, trying to force their way back into the game – but time was running out on them.
However, after sustained pressure and seven phases of possession, substitute scrumhalf Ricky Januarie managed to stretch out and place the ball on the tryline in the 77th minute.
Grant added the extras to make it 25-17, but time was almost up.
Again, the Stormers surged onto the attack, but the Bulls weathered it with composure and saw out the game until the final whistle sounded and they lifted their arms in triumph.
Would you like to use this article in your publication or on your website? See: Using SAinfo material