Cape Town - After a poor first half, the Bulls produced a remarkable turnaround to take the lead, but the Stormers held their nerve to pull off a 30-26 bonus-point victory at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
Replacement scrumhalf Paul de Wet scored the winning try in the last five minutes to break the Bulls’ hearts, after the home side hit back from 18-0 down in the first half.
Almost nothing went right for Jake White’s team in the opening 40 minutes as the Cape side ran up their 18-0 lead in just 30 minutes.
The Bulls conceded scrum penalties, were unable to covert their driving mauls into points and made a number of handling errors on attack as well.
They also strangely opted to go for touch early on instead of taking the three points at goal, and the Stormers took full advantage.
John Dobson’s team looked far more composed with ball-in-hand, while their strong defensive efforts seemed to inspire their attack, with veteran openside flank Deon Fourie prominent at the breakdowns in particular.
It took the Stormers just seven minutes to score their first try. Following a wonderful passage of play, flyhalf Manie Libbok put through a perfect grubber for wing Seabelo Senatla to score.
More problems ensued for the Bulls as tighthead prop Mornay Smith left the field after just 10 minutes, having had his left ankle heavily strapped a few minutes earlier, and the Stormers added another three points through Libbok for a 8-0 lead.
They have done it! The DHL Stormers have scored four tries to claim a 30-26 win against the Vodacom Bulls at Loftus Versfeld. Incredible character from the team to walk away with a full-house of five points. Bring on next week!#BULvSTO #iamastormer #dhldelivers pic.twitter.com/5X0fdlsqIY— DHL Stormers (@THESTORMERS) January 22, 2022
Bulls No 10 Chris Smith also missed a shot at goal in the 23rd minute, and in turn, Libbok slotted a second penalty for an 11-0 advantage.
On the half-hour mark, Libbok repeated his party trick with another well weighted grubber for Senatla to grab his brace, and the match seemed over as a contest as the Stormers led 18-0.
The Bulls had a couple of opportunities inside the Stormers 22, but an almost inevitable mistake would stop their progress.
They didn’t give up, though, and were rewarded for their efforts just before halftime when hooker Johan Grobbelaar forced his way over the line from a driving maul.
The Stormers were still favourites for the victory with an 18-7 halftime lead, but they appeared to contract the Bulls’ first-half illness as they started to make unforced errors and concede penalties after the break.
White must have read his team the riot act in the change-room as the Bulls played with much better cohesion and accuracy in the second half. He also brought on the experience of Lizo Gqoboka, Marcell Coetzee and Morné Steyn for the second half, while Harold Vorster replaced Lionel Mapoe soon after that as well.
They added much-needed calmness and physicality to the Bulls’ approach, and also had some luck going their way as Libbok missed a penalty at goal for the Stormers.
The turnaround came when the Bulls struck from a scrum inside the Stormers 22 with a superb set-piece move as Steyn found Vorster, who fed Madosh Tambwe on the inside and the No 14 raced over.
A few minutes later, Steyn was again the instigator, taking a quick penalty and producing a chip kick to locate Kurt-Lee Arendse, who passed inside to Embrose Papier to dot down and put the Bulls into a 21-18 lead.
The Bulls would’ve thought that they had clinched victory with 15 minutes to go when No 8 Elrigh Louw wasn’t held in a tackle and went all the way to stretch the lead to 26-18, with Steyn surprisingly missing the conversion.
The Stormers, though, weren’t out for the count just yet. Replacement fullback Warrick Gelant found the gap and pulled off a stunning grubber for Jantjies to score, and despite Libbok missing an easy conversion, the Bulls’ lead was cut down to three points with 10 minutes to go.
And while the TV feed was lost and the on-field officials couldn’t refer any incidents to the TMO for the last quarter, the Stormers kept going, and a few minutes before the end, replacement scrumhalf Paul de Wet grabbed the winning try to break the Bulls’ hearts.
Bulls 26 – Tries: Johan Grobbelaar, Madosh Tambwe, Embrose Papier, Elrigh Louw. Conversions: Chris Smith (1), Morné Steyn (2).
Stormers 30 – Tries: Seabelo Senatla (2), Herschel Jantjies, Paul de Wet. Conversions: Manie Libbok (2). Penalties: Libbok (2).