THE Stormers will win the Super Rugby title in 2012!
No, it’s not a Cape-based journalist backing “his” team, but rather a conclusion drawn from what was a dramatic Saturday night at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria.
The Stormers had absolutely no price to go there and expect to win. We know about all the injuries to their loose forwards, but this time, their captain Jean de Villiers had spent all week on his back with flu and was still in doubt despite having flown up to Gauteng with the team.
So, when I saw De Villiers boarding the team bus on Saturday night to drive to Loftus for the game, the Stormers’ chances of maybe getting a bonus point for losing by seven points improved.
Yes, a losing bonus point, as the Cape side were missing just too many players, especially Andries Bekker and Duane Vermeulen.
They capitulated under the physical onslaught of the Sharks in Durban a week earlier, and although they had Siya Kolisi back for Loftus, it was still going to be too much to ask them to hold out the hugely physical Bulls.
But while the Stormers lineout was not at its best, the resolve shown to repel wave after wave of Bulls attacks was magnificent.
Two passages of play stood out – one where the home team took the ball through 16 phases, and another multi-phase move with two minutes left that ended with Wynand Olivier’s pass into touch. In both instances, they got to within five metres of the Stormers tryline.
But even with the Bulls marketing people playing the tune of “Pink Panther” on the sound system in anticipation of a strike, there was just no way through.
Now the major problem for the Stormers in the last two years was their mental strength in handling the pressure of a final and semi-final without crucial players. In 2010, they went to Soweto to take on the Bulls at Orlando Stadium, and the moment appeared too big for them as they gave away a slew of penalties and were 16-0 down before they knew it.
Last year, the Stormers were favourites to beat the Crusaders in the semi-final at Newlands, as the seven-times champions were severely depleted by injuries to a host of their key players, including Dan Carter. But the Cape side froze again.
Following the Loftus win, though, the adversity the Stormers have gone through and still top the SA conference and be second on the overall log is a top effort.
I mean, to beat the Bulls when you have relatively unknown names in South African rugby such as Frans Malherbe, De Kock Steenkamp, Jebb Sinclair, Quinn Roux, Don Armand and Nick Fenton-Wells in your match-22 says a great deal about this bunch of players.
Was that the Bryan Habana of old that we saw at Loftus? The Springbok wing played a massive role as one of the senior players for the Stormers.
There was that scintillating run from a catch of a high ball in the first half, and then of course the fairytale match-winning try following Deon Fourie’s brilliant steal on the ground, Roux’s terrific pass and Kolisi’s great break. But Habana was a tireless bundle of energy with his scuttling bursts of speed, catching several high kicks, making endless tackles, and looking for work around the field.
Lwazi Mvovo has been hot this season too, while Bjorn Basson has also been in good form. But Habana is still good enough to be the Bok No 11.
I was heartened to see the large number of Stormers supporters around Loftus before the game, as it meant that I was unlikely to encounter the same kind of troubles as I did the last time I went to the Bull kraal.
It was pretty incredible to hear how the spectators roared for the Stormers when they were welcomed for their warm-up before the game.
A surreal thing at Loftus is the mainly soundproof media box. You can barely hear any noise from the outside, so you virtually work in silence when there are 50 000 people screaming a few metres from you!
TWEET OF THE WEEK
@Pierrespies8: Big congrats to Jean de Villiers being our Bok captain.. great guy, leader& awesome player!!
WHO TO FOLLOW
@StevenKitshoff: Check out what the Stormers No 1 gets up to during the IRB Junior World Championship while playing for the SA Under-20 team here in the Western Cape.
Follow Ashfak Mohamed on Twitter: @ashfakmohamed