Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - Old-timers who recall the days of Northern Transvaal grinding out wins strongly influenced by the place-kicking prowess of “Nasty Booter” and arch-rivals Western Province employing a more flamboyant approach to counter them must be feeling a little confused in 2012.
The try-scoring statistics after 16 rounds of Super Rugby this year indicate just how much more easily the Bulls are crossing the chalk than the Stormers, despite the Newlands-based side still holding the more important aces in terms of ongoing SA conference supremacy with just two rounds to go before the playoffs phase.
The Bulls comfortably lead in the “tries for” department among South African sides – their 45 at an average of 3.21 per game leaves them currently second only to the traditionally free-spirited Hurricanes from New Zealand (55) in the competition.
Their opponents in Friday night’s high-stakes Durban derby, the Sharks, are the second-best SA side for tries registered (39 at 2.78 per match, fifth equal with the Brumbies overall).
Even the Cheetahs, fourth in the domestic conference and well out of contention for the finals series, have registered 35 tries - 10 more than the pace-setting Stormers.
Jean de Villiers’s team did at least manage to wriggle their way ahead of the Lions, bottom-placed both locally and overall, by scoring three tries to their two in the hard-fought Saturday encounter eventually clinched 27-17 by the hosts.
It took the Stormers to 25 tries (average 1.78 a game), one ahead of the men from the Big Smoke, who have the worst record in the competition for tries notched.
The Bulls were in imperious form for about an hour of their high-tempo Loftus meeting with the Cheetahs on Saturday, rattling up six tries to go into a rather awe-inspiring 40-0 lead before they raided their bench and lost much momentum before the finish.
It was largely a reflection of their consistent ability to notch five- or seven-pointers in 2012, and there is some irony in the fact that they are finding the phenomenon so easy with the supposedly sterile, much-maligned Morne Steyn almost always in the flyhalf channel!
Of course the Stormers will provide proud testimony to the fact that miserly defence is a mightily important aspect to mounting a title charge, too.
In “tries against” they are easily the best of the entire Super Rugby bunch as things stand, having leaked only 18 in 14 matches at an average of 1.28 per outing.
Nearest to them for keeping the gate shut, as it were, are the log-leading Chiefs who have given away 24 tries.
In South African terms the Stormers are even more runaway leaders for defence of the try-line: the Sharks are 12 tries worse off in that regard (30 concessions) and the Bulls next with 32.Purely in terms of try difference, here is the SA pecking order:
1. Bulls (second in conference): tries for 45, tries against 32 - difference +13
2. Sharks (third in conference): tries for 39, tries against 30 - difference +9
3. Stormers (first in conference): tries for 25, tries against 18 - difference +7
4. Cheetahs (fourth in conference): tries for 35, tries against 42 - difference -7
5. Lions (fifth in conference): tries for 24, tries against 44 - difference -20*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing