It wasn’t the stronger team that won this match, there wasn’t one. It was a little bit of perhaps slightly better planning by the Stormers, and a little bit of luck.
This was a typical North/South Derby of two equally matched, but tactically different teams. The driving power of the Vodacom Bulls pitted against the impenetrable defense of the DHL Stormers. This game was a clash of the titans. The bone crunching tackles could be heard from the media box ten stories up in the heavens. No quarter was given by either side in a ‘must win’ match for both teams. A ‘must win’ for both the pride of each side, and for the top spot on the conference and log. Games just don’t get bigger than this, but I digress.
Why did the Stormers win? Simple. They changed their game plan and caught the Vodacom Bulls slightly unawares. They played a Bulls style – in your face with a number of tactical garryowen’s, rather than kicking the ball deep into the opposition territory and allowing them to run from deep. This allowed the DHL Stormers to get into the Vodacom Bulls territory early, and force the penalties and put 9 points on the board before the Vodacom Bulls could really respond and change their tactics. The Vodacom Bulls came out of the tunnel much the wiser after halftime, and played much better rugby, nearly stealing the win. And this is where the bit of luck came in…
On any other night, Morné Steyn would have slotted those penalties, that drop may have gone a meter further, and that knock on, a metre and a half out, would not have happened and Hougaard would have been in for another try. But it wasn’t to be, and this time the gods were smiling down on the DHL Stormers, wiping out the memories of the last time these two teams clashed at Newlands when the Vodacom Bulls won by 3 points last year.
Coach Frans Ludeke, in his own words, praised the team for the character shown, and crediting Pierre Spies and his charges for clawing their way back into the match. He felt that they were beaten on the gain line in the first half and that they had missed some opportunities in the second half. Pierre Spies said “The intensity (of the Stormers) caught us unaware in the first half, and they got the result, converting pressure into points”. He said that they just couldn’t get momentum in the first half, and that was always going to make the second half an uphill battle – something Victor Matfield alluded to early on in the match when he said that you don’t let the Stormers get six or nine points ahead, or” you were always going to struggle to get points back against their defense”.
Morné Steyn was clearly not in his best form last night, and that was clear for all to see. Some insight into Morné’s poor game was given by Pierre Spies saying that he had “struggled with an injury all week, and was a doubtful starter”. This perhaps gives credence to fellow blogger, superBul’s comment during the game regarding Steyn’s lack of rest time. Are the Bulls really worried about the pivot spot, and thus playing their star into the ground? Time will tell.
Allister Coetzee too, was pleased with the composure under pressure his side displayed against a “quality Bulls side”. Jean de Villiers said “This win and the momentum gained from it, was very important for the DHL Stormers as we go on a very tough tour, including the Highlanders, Crusaders, Reds and Force inside 4 weeks.” When asked about touring, he said “One mustn’t underestimate homeground advantage, and this was proven by the homeground advantage the Vodacom Bulls and Force had over the Reds” He continued that this was probably going to be the hardest tour they had ever been on, but that the Stormers are going with the intent to win every match.
De Villiers was very pleased with his backline, and felt that there’s nothing missing, but as always improvement is always the order of the day. He said that they “Weren’t scoring four tries, but we’re winning, and I’d much rather take that than four tries and losing”.
The DHL Stormers went in with a kicking plan, and Coetzee said the it was “spot on”, as was the way the DHL Stormers handled the Vodacom Bulls aerial attack. Their plan was to try to make the kicks as contestable as possible – a la Vodacom Bulls – rather than send the ball back way down into the Vodacom Bulls territory. This allowed the DHL Stormers attack to “dominate the advantage line”, stating that the stats will prove that.
Coetzee stayed away from the Kitshof issue this week, but from my point of view, after having played against all the South African teams, he can at last stand up and be counted as a young prop with with a big future. He has come through the firing line with aplomb, and hasn’t backed down from any situation he’s faced.
This was never going to be a pretty match, this was an arm wrestle, with the advantage swinging to and fro and for the full 80 minutes these teams pounded each others fortresses, but it was a classic South African derby, and a pleasure for any purist to watch. Both sides made silly mistakes, and both sides gave away silly penalties, but with improvement over the season, these will become less and less. I wouldn’t be surprised – on current form – to see these two teams battling it out in the final of the competition.
Allister Coetzee also named the traveling 26 man side for the tour down under. They are:
Joe Pietersen, Gio Aplon, Juan de Jongh, Jean de Villiers (captain), Bryan Habana, Peter Grant, Dewaldt Duvenage, Duane Vermeulen, Rynhardt Elstadt, Siya Kolisi, Andries Bekker, Eben Etzebeth, Brok Harris, Tiaan Liebenberg, Steven Kitshoff, Deon Fourie, Frans Malherbe, De Kock Steenkamp, Nic Koster, Louis Schreuder, Burton Francis, Gerhard van den Heever, Deon Carstons, Nissan Carr, J P du Plessis, Siyabonga (Scarra) Ntubeni.
Teams for the match were:
Stormers: 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Deon Fourie, 17 Frans Malherbe, 18 De Kock Steenkamp, 19 Nic Koster, 20 Louis Schreuder, 21 Burton Francis, 22 Gerhard van den Heever.
Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies (captain), 7 Jacques Potgieter, 6 CJ Stander, 5 Juandré Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 Arno Botha, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Louis Fouché, 22 JJ Engelbrecht.
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Stuart Berry (South Africa), Cobus Wessels (South Africa)
TMO: Johann Meuwesen (South Africa)
No stats available at the time of writing, I will update this as it comes up.