Seabelo Senatla’s try three minutes from fulltime settled the Vodacom Super Rugby slugfest in the favour of the DHL Stormers, as they romped to a 41-33 victory over the Vodacom Bulls at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday, reports Brenden Nel of SuperSport.com
In a match where defence was an afterthought and some incredibly soft tries were scored, the teams slugged it out on attack to produce a thrilling 11 try festival that entertained as much as it kept the scorers busy.
The win gave the Stormers a big shot in terms of confidence ahead of their quarterfinal match next weekend, where they are likely to face New Zealand opposition, but as entertaining as the game was, the nasty afterthrought that if the defence was as bad as this next weekend, they may not be so lucky, tended to linger.
Robbie Fleck’s side won on the basis that they had the slicker skills, particularly on the counter-attack, as they exploited the brittle Bulls defence from turnovers in broken play to score the majority of their tries.
At times it seemed as if the Bulls were intent on attacking no matter what, and while it was admirable for a side with nothing to lose and anticipating John Mitchell’s arrival to take over the team from Monday, it certainly wasn’t what was needed on an afternoon if they were intent on winning.
The move to the expansive game plan in Pretoria is indeed something that needs to be embraced, but as they have seen so many times in a forgettable season, expansive rugby only works when your ball retention is good, and even more so when your defence can hold up under pressure, limiting mistakes as you go.
None of this was on display from the Bulls as they certainly entertained, but too often reminded those watching of the Cheetahs sides of the past decade – brilliant on attack, but brittle on defence, contributing to their downfall.
For the Stormers there were the necessary questionmarks that were asked, and answered, and they know they can slug it out with any team. The question is just how many soft tries they will let in, and five against them on an afternoon is certainly not what they will want next week in the playoffs.
But this was a game they had so much more to lose than the Bulls, and the fact that they slugged it out and came out on top will be all that Robbie Fleck will be interested in, with one eye firmly set on what needs to be a bigger performance next weekend.
Still, the game produced some beautiful tries, with both backlines – and the Springboks in particular – setting themselves apart from teammates as they rose to the occasion.
Dillyn Lleyds was the best Stormers back, while Cheslin Kolbe scored a brilliant individual try, with Eben Etzebeth in particularly menacing form up front while Siya Kolisi was just everywhere on the park.
The Bulls would be more than chuffed with the brace of tries from Jesse Kriel, the speed and work ethic of Duncan Matthews, Jan Serfontein’s stature in midfield and Piet van Zyl’s return to form from injury. But the 20 turnovers conceded by the Bulls – more often than not in the wrong areas of the field – kept them under pressure and allowed the Stormers to make them pay dearly.
The game opened with one of the best tries of the season, as Matthews started the move from inside his 22, saw the ball move through several forwards and eventually watched as Jason Jenkins crashed over.
But the Stormers hit back hard, taking Bulls mistakes and turning it into points – first when Kolbe stepped past five Bulls players on his way to score and then when the Bulls were stretched and Sikhumbuzo Notshe added his name to the scoresheet.
Another long range try saw Kriel break free and surge downfield, offloading to Matthews at the perfect time to put the winger away before Kriel found a perfect gap and scored his first try to give his team the lead again on the half hour.
A frantic collective of turnovers saw the Stormers retake the lead just after Kriel’s effort as they almost scored through Seabelo Senatla, lost the ball, and then regained it from a loose pass to see Lleyds go over untouched.
The hard-working Coenraad van Vuuren received his marching orders early in the second half for a high tackle – the Bulls third of the game, but a frustratingly harsh call for the prop.
The call came at a crucial time in the game and only served to highlight the erratic officiating that the game received, but also put the Bulls on the back foot as the Stormers stepped up and took control of the game.
First it was Kolisi who forced his way over the line and while there wasn’t video evidence, the referee decided he believed it was a try and awarded it, and before Van Vuuren could return the Stormers found a beautiful opening through Lleyds, who almost went all the way before offloading to Damian Willemse to score.
But the Bulls weren’t done. First Van Zyl sniped around the ruck to score a typical halfback try and then a loose pass from a lineout was snatched up by Kriel who ran through untouched to score.
With only a point in it, the Bulls tried hard to attack but kept losing the ball through poor handling and some excellent ruck work by the Stormers, and when it mattered, Lleyds stepped up and chipped into space, with Senatla’s speed no match for the poor defensive cover that was there as the Sevens star swooped in for the winning try.
The Bulls will lick their wounds and find out what waits for them as Mitchell arrives, but the Stormers will know they need to tighten up more, and be as clinical next week if they are to advance further in the playoffs.
Vodacom Bulls – tries: Jesse Kriel (2), Jason Jenkins, Duncan Matthews, Piet van Zyl. Conversions: Tian Schoeman (3), Tony Jantjies.
DHL Stormers – tries: Cheslin Kolbe, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Dillyn Lleyds, Siya Kolisi, Damian Willemse, Seabelo Senatla. Conversions: Damian Willemse (4). Penalty: Damian Willemse