The Stormers won, for the seventh successive time in the United Rugby Championship against the Bulls. The biggest victory was for South African rugby and the URC. The losers once again were the match officials, writes Mark Keohane.
I’ll get to the Stormers and Bulls in a moment, but to the rugby public in Western Province, locals, tourists and foreigners, what an occasion made special by the people on a hot, yet windy, Cape Town evening. More than 42 000 tickets were sold for a rugby match on the 23rd of December on a day the temperatures were in excess of 25 degrees. Just a shade over 40 000 made it to the ground, braving the traffic and lasting what would have been a long pre-drinks in Cape Town.
The match delivered, for the tournament and, in result, for the hosts.
Ironically, the 26-20 win by the Stormers is consistent with the average winning score in their previous six league match wins against the Bulls. These wins are never big in numbers but they are colossal in meaning.
It seems inconceivable that John Dobson’s Stormers have done Jake White’s Bulls seven times in succession in two years, five of them at the DHL Stadium.
But that is the reality of the situation and Dobson’s Stormers must be applauded for what is a significant and magnificent feat to down such a power Bulls squad, coached by the 2007 World Cup-winning coach in White.
The dominance over the Bulls is huge, mentally for what the Stormers are building with their brand of rugby, dedication to the people of Western Province and also their guts and desire to play for each other.
The Bulls outscored the Stormers three tries to two, but the Stormers had three tries disallowed, one of which was given in real time by the referee to Deon Fourie, but on repeated slow motion replays, was disallowed.
The officiating was again one of interpretation and not application of the law. Head contact, according to World Rugby’s directive, is a card sanction, but on Saturday night we once again had a referee and his assistants playing coach, captain and medical expert in what constituted height, degree of impact, force, mitigation and consequence.
It is why the head collision directive is a shambles. Some match officials stick to the directive and others don’t.
Had Bulls front rower Gerhard Steenekamp’s blow to Neethling Fouche’s jaw/head been delivered against Leinster in Dublin, Steenekamp would have been deported, let alone red carded.
World Rugby needs to decide if they accept rugby collisions or if the match officials have no opinion to add when applying the directive.
The Stormers started well and were in control in playing their best opening 10 minutes of the season. The Bulls showed wonderful counter attacking intent and individual skill to turn a 6-0 deficit into a 10-6 lead.
Then the Stormers applied the pressure and were in absolute control 16-10 at half-time. They’d also had three tries disallowed.
The Bulls were belligerent in not going away, but they were always chasing the game in the second half and even when they got within three points, the Stormers were good enough to extend the lead into more than three points.
Defensively the Stormers were potent and it is a credit to the Stormers coaching staff, in preparation, and the players, in application, of the defensive structures.
It was a fabulous game of rugby, which was a compliment to the quality of players on the field and the value South African teams have added to the URC.
For many Bulls it was a homecoming, given they are from this province, and the likes of Kurt-Lee Arendse and Canan Moodie did not disappoint. Arendse was outstanding. Veteran Willie le Roux, another of the locals playing outside of the province, was emphatic and influential in all that he did and scrum half Ambrose Papier was a menace.
For the hosts, the captain Deon Fourie was immense and No 8 Hacjivah Dayimani was as good. Ruben van Heerden made 20 tackles, carried well and called the line out superbly. The pack for 60 minutes played as a collective and in the final quarter felt the pressure at scrum times and the wrath of referee Marius van der Westhuizen, who despite being born in Cape Town and schooled at President High School in Cape Town’s northern suburb of Goodwood, in no way ever favoured the Stormers on any 50-50 call. It was quite the opposite.
Players continue to grow on both sides, with replacement hooker Andre-Hugo Venter, right wing Suleiman Hartzenberg and replacement lock Connor Evans names that have the potential to be around for a long time.
The Stormers veteran midfield of Jean-Luc du Plessis and Ruhan Nel flourished and Springbok World Cup winners Manie Libbok and Damian Willemse play with a strut, with presence and with authority.
Bulls replacement No 8 Milo Gumede was powerful in the final quarter, but the collective of the hosts proved unbreakable against any individual moments from the visitors, and when Bulls flyhalf Chris Smith, schooled at SACS in Newlands and a Varsity Cup winner with Maties, tried a miracle cross kick with time up, it was the equal of a general waving the white flag, such was the defiance in the Stormers defence.
DHL Stormers — 15 Damian Willemse, 14 Suleiman Hartzenberg, 13 Ruhan Nel, 12 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 11 Leolin Zas, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Paul de Wet, 8 Hacjivah Dayimani, 7 Ben-Jason Dixon, 6 Deon Fourie (c), 5 Ruben van Heerden, 4 Adre Smith, 3 Neethling Fouche, 2 Joseph Dweba, 1 Sti Sithole.
Subs: 16 Andre-Hugo Venter, 17 Ali Vermaak, 18 Brok Harris, 19 Connor Evans, 20 Willie Engelbrecht, 21 Keke Morabe, 22 Stefan Ungerer, 23 Clayton Blommetjies.
Vodacom Bulls — 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 13 Stedman Gans, 12 David Kriel, 11 Canan Moodie, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Embrose Papier, 8 Cameron Hanekom, 7 Elrigh Louw (c), 6 Marco van Staden, 5 Reinhardt Ludwig, 4 Janko Swanepoel, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Gerhard Steenekamp.
Subs: 16 Jan Hendrik Wessels, 17 Simphiwe Matanzima, 18 Mornay Smith, 19 Deon Slabbert, 20 Mpilo Gumede, 21 Keagan Johannes, 22 Chris Smith, 23 Sebastian de Klerk.