Vodacom Super 14

Bulls master the pupils

2010-05-29 22:03
Celebration time
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town – It would be an exaggeration to brand the Bulls’ retention of the Vodacom Super 14 trophy as a triumph for men over boys.

Give them their due: first-time finalists the Stormers were not nearly as cowed or naïve as that in the Soweto showpiece on Saturday.

It was more a matter of known “masters” using all their steel and street-wisdom to slowly choke the willing but too often back-pedalling rookies into submission.

Nobody could begrudge the Bulls a third championship in four seasons, and even this far out it seems highly likely they will be right up in the hunt again when the SANZAR competition switches to a significantly-reworked Super 15 next year.

At least Schalk Burger’s underdogs, who have restored smiles of self-respect to many long-suffering Cape faces despite this failure at the last hurdle, were infinitely more game opponents than the Chiefs had been at Loftus last year – then Victor Matfield’s marauders won the final by 44 points.

This time the margin in an uncompromising, all-South African affair was just eight, and somehow the Stormers even nicked the try count 2-1.

I say somehow because that was probably the day’s most deceptive statistic: Bryan Habana’s moment of commendable, intercept opportunism against his former franchise came very much out of the blue while reserve scrumhalf Ricky Januarie’s late, margin-reducing touchdown should have been referred “upstairs” to reveal that it wasn’t that.

But I suggested before this keenly-awaited derby that the first quarter would tell us much about which way the scales would ultimately tilt … and the Bulls were simply terrific at building their bridgehead and ensuring that the Stormers would always be playing catch-up rugby.

A deficit of 16-0 after 24 minutes of a final tends to be an awful lot of yards to make up, even if Burger’s troops did recover quite tidily from the early blitzkrieg and surrendered after the 80 minutes with honour relatively intact.

The Bulls, broadly, played extremely shrewd “final” rugby, their tough and cohesive pack ensuring front-foot momentum much of the time against opponents who appear to have retreated to an old Achilles heel: namely in the front row of the scrum.

Things got worse when JC Kritzinger replaced Wicus Blaauw on the loosehead side in the second half (maybe there were good reasons, but shouldn’t he have taken over from clearly off-form Brok Harris on the other side?) and promptly incurred the set-piece ire of referee Craig Joubert twice in kickable positions for the Bulls – that is so foolhardy when one Morne Steyn and his metronomic right boot are on the park!

Not that the Bulls’ game was all based around their known strengths of both in-field and dead-ball kicking: a key element of their approach on the day, and in the first half especially, was to surprise the Stormers by putting the ball through hands often and effectively.

They also tossed an ego-ruffling hand grenade at the Stormers’ famed defensive structure when ever-dangerous left wing Francois Hougaard, later a fine call as player-of-the-match, split it wide open with a magically-timed infield incursion and trademark theatrical dive for the try behind the posts.

Burger’s men did plug that hole pretty professionally, as the Bulls seldom got within breathing distance of their line again -- but they didn’t need to, with the Stormers more often the ones under pressure and haemorrhaging penalties at the breakdown.

The losing captain didn’t seem too charmed with Joubert’s interpretation of events in that department, referring acidly afterwards to “a different set of breakdown rules for each team” and once being admonished during play for what had presumably been a stinging “verbal” in the whistle-man’s direction through the din of vuvuzelas.

Not that any different policing of things there would have made much difference: there was a 15-point gap with some three minutes left on the clock, when Januarie got his try that was wrongly awarded, so the Stormers got their own seven-point present.

That said, Burger put his own body on the line inspiringly in a vanquished cause, as did his loose forward colleagues Francois Louw and Duane Vermeulen, while Andries Bekker poached some Bulls lineouts and also confirmed his renewed willingness to get involved in areas that aren’t so “flash”.

It was a sign of the Stormers’ frustration, though, that Bekker was responsible for a key penalty reversal in favour of the Bulls in the 69th minute: Peter Grant was about to line up a shot at the posts that might have narrowed the gap to 19-13 when assistant referee Cobus Wessels brought the senior official’s attention to a hot-headed illegal entry to a ruck by the lanky second-rower.

Good enough game, splendid and poignant occasion … but right result, no question.


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