Superb Bulls secure back-to-back titles
May 29, 2010
Danie Rossouw makes some hard yards for the Bulls
© Getty Images
The Bulls secured their third Super 14 title in four seasons with a thrilling 25-17 victory over the Stormers at Orlando Stadium in Soweto on Saturday.
The all-South African final was again taken down the road to Soweto by the Bulls and their decision was rewarded, as it was in the semi-final against the Crusaders, by the vocal, colourful backing of their fans and local supporters of the Orlando Pirates. The on-field battle was soundtracked by the deafening roar of the crowd's vuvuzelas, which will soon provide raucous backing for football's leading lights when the FIFA World Cup arrives in South Africa in June.
The stars of the Association code could learn a thing or two about kicking from Bulls pivot Morne Steyn, whose record-breaking boot was again the reason for the Bulls' victory. The Stormers punctured the Bulls' aggressive defence twice for tries, to former Loftus favourite Bryan Habana and scrum-half Ricky Januarie, but were unable to pull clear as Steyn slotted six penalties and converted Francois Hougaard's superb first-half try for a personal haul of 20 points.
The big-game experience of the home side told over the final 80 minutes of Super 14 rugby before expansion next year and the Stormers, despite boasting the meanest defence in this year's tournament, were unable to prevent them from joining the Blues and Crusaders in winning back-to-back Super Rugby titles.
Steyn's opening penalty followed a dominant scrummage close to the Stormers' line and was just reward for a bright opening. There was space for Fourie du Preez and Pierre Spies in the opening exchanges as the Bulls blended heads-up rugby with their typical belligerence on the gain line.
They also defied convention by keeping the ball in hand where possible and Steyn was constantly on hand with an arsenal of high kicks to bail them out under pressure. The fly-half slotted a second penalty as the play remained camped in Stormers territory and the visitors' defence took on an increasingly ragged look as the toll began to tell.
Subscribing to the old cliché that attack is the best form of defence almost brought an immediate response from the Cape Town side though, and it was their skipper Schalk Burger who was denied by the TMO. Francois Louw, who will win his first Springbok cap against Wales next weekend, took a leaf out of Spies' book with a massive midfield burst and good pressure close to the Bulls' line led to the ball crossing the whitewash, but after a double movement.
Steyn rubbed salt in the wounds with his third penalty and the seemingly omnipresent du Preez soon carved open the Stormers for the opening try. Hougaard drifted infield from his wing and popped up in midfield, where his scrum-half supplied a wonderful pop pass for the youngster to race clear and round Joe Pietersen for the score.
Grant got the visitors on the board with a 30th minute penalty but they had to wait until the opening moments of the second half to bring their fans to their feet. Dewaldt Duvenhage picked off a loose Bulls pass and sparked his side into life, breaking away with strong support. Grant carried well and Tiaan Liebenberg rumbled on, but once the Bulls had recovered their composure their fire was quickly doused.
Jaque Fourie and Pietersen fought gamely to drag the Stormers back into contention but it was a moment of fortune that turned the tide. Just outside the Bulls 22 Steyn sent a languid pass straight into the waiting arms of Habana, who trotted clear to score under the sticks. The World Cup-winning wing, the only Stormers player to have previously played in a final, also notched a personal milestone with his score, having now picked up a try in all three of his final appearances. Grant's conversion made it a six-point game with 25 minutes remaining.
Having kicked the wasps' nest the Stormers were forced to defend for their lives and again it was Habana who led from the front. The winger attacked his work with frenzied determination but was unable to stop the Bulls setting up field position for Steyn to chip over another three pointer to extend their lead back out to nine.
The Stormers regrouped and set about testing the Bulls in their own territory, but again felt the sting after failing to break down their structured defence. Andries Bekker's stupid charge at a ruck saw a kickable penalty reversed and the Bulls marched to the other end where Steyn landed his fifth kick. His sixth followed in quick succession as JC Kritzinger was pinged at the scrum but Januarie then provided a glimmer of hope for the visitors.
From the kick-off the Stormers tore upfield with Louw again conspicuous with a couple of big carries. Januarie directed play well before reaching out for the line, with referee Craig Joubert awarding the try despite the ball appearing to have been grounded short. There was to be no fairytale for Burger and his men though, as the Bulls showed all of their composure to wind the clock down, suffocating any advances before the final whistle confirmed their place in the history books as the last winners of the Super 14.
Joe Simpson talks to Charlie Morgan about loss, Wasps and being England's game-breaker