A late Bryan Habana try earned the Stormers a dramatic 19-14 victory over the Bulls in their brutal derby at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
There were 50 000 people at Loftus Versfeld to watch this South African Classic - North vs South, Bulls/Northern Transvaal vs Stormers/Western Province. From ground to roof, from corner to corner the famous ground was packed. It was, at it always is, a tough, tense encounter - not the effervescent stuff of the Blues against the Hurricanes or the Lions against the Sharks, matches which happened earlier in this Super Rugby round, but it was gripping and there was a fascination in the sheer conflict.
Part of the fascination was in the statistics of the game. Look at them and then ask yourself how on earth the Stormers could have won. The Bulls enjoyed something like 70% of possession and even more of territory. The Stormers were required to make over 130 tackles, the Bulls about 50.
But there was something else in the tackle count which was significant. The Bulls missed seven of their 50, the Stormers eight of their 130, 14% vs 6%. The Stormers' tough defence was heroic.
Then there was what the Stormers did with their 30% of possession. They scored a try and four penalties. They scored penalties, and at the end they suddenly passed quickly and effectively - no phases, just probing, and there was a probe which won them the match. The Bulls went through unprofitable phase after unprofitable phase, giving the Stormers the chance to lay down their defensive lines.
The Bulls could have kicked at goal more but they wanted tries in the second half, which they did not get. With all that possession and territory they managed a meagre three points in the 40 minutes of the second half, not scoring a single point when the Stormers were down to 14 men, They eschewed penalty kicks at goal but Morné Steyn tried - and missed - two attempted drop goals, which seemed like a capitulatrion to the Stormers' defence.
Steyn missed the first one when there was no score and the Stormers opened the scoring. The first two scores were for scrum infringements, the first by Dean Greyling, the second by Frans Malherbe and the score was 3-all after 14 minutes. CJ Stander was penalised at a tackle and it was 6-3 after 21 minutes. After that the Bulls settled down to attack the Stormers in their slow, predictable way. Why on earth slow ball if preferable to quick ball from a tackle beggars belief.
After De Kock Steenkamp had knocked on a kick-off, the Bulls bashed at the Stormers' line till JJ Engelbrecht knocked on. They went through 18 phases without looking convincing but after a five-metre line-out Chiliboy Ralepelle tapped a free kick and Pierre Spies swivelled over for a try. Weirdly, Steyn missed the straightforward conversion. 8-6 to the Bulls' after 29 minutes.
Steyn and Grant each goaled a penalty to make the half-time score 11-9 to the Bulls.
The Stormers haemorrhaged penalties - four in quick succession, all at mauls. Steyn goaled the third one and on the fourth occasion the referee sent Malherbe to the sin bin.
The Bulls used these advantages to attack the Stormers' line but the visitors held out. At one five-metre line-out Quinn Roux rose up to steal the Bulls' ball.
With 11 minutes to play the Stormers actually escaped into Bulls' territory. Wynand Olivier was penalised at a tackle and Grant made it 14-12 - not that there seemed any prospect of a Stormers' victory as they were just defenders, but suddenly they changed. They produced the only backline movement of the match up to then - out to Gerhard van den Heever on the right wing.
Going left, Grant chipped but the kick was charged, but De Villiers got it back and some quick passing had the Stormers going left. Engelbrecht went for an intercept which left a gap for Siya Kolisi who strode down the field, Gio Aplon to his left, Bryan Habana to his right. As Olivier came closer and Zane Kirchner threatened he passed inside to unmarked Habana who had a simple run to the posts. Grant converted. 19-14 with 7 minutes to play - 19-14 to the Stormers, that is, amazing to relate.
The Bulls played the match in their pink strip and the Stormers wore pink armbands. It was all a part of cancer awareness.
Man of the Match: Bryan Habana was great. His first-half run off an up-and-under by François Hougaard was the most exciting event in the first half. He is excellent under the high ball and has a remarkable workrate. But our Man of the Match is Siya Kolisi, not the bulkiest of forwards but perhaps the toughest tackler in the land. His defence was remarkable and when he ran with the ball, he set up the winning try.
For the Bulls:
Pens: Steyn 3
For the Stormers:
Pens: Grant 4
Yellow card: Frans Malherbe (59 mins - Dangerous tackle)
Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies (captain), 7 CJ Stander, 6 Dewald Potgieter, 5 Juandrè Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Rayno Gerber, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 Arno Botha, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Louis Fouché, 22 Francois Venter.
Stormers: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Jebb Sinclair, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 De Kock Steenkamp, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 Deon Carstens.
Replacements: 16 Deon Fourie, 17 Brok Harris, 18 Quinn Roux, 19 Don Armand, 20 Nick Fenton-Wells, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Burton Francis.
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)