Cape Town — The Stormers are the inaugural United Rugby Champions!
What a road it has been for these men. After a start that had nobody thinking they could go and do it, they made history in the Grand Final against their rivals.
It was a proper game of two halves, and it was the Stormers’ second half performance that saw them defeat the Bulls 18-13 in the decider at a wet Cape Town Stadium on Saturday.
The result saw the Stormers extend their winning streak to 11 games.
The Bulls were well in control in the opening quarter of the game and were constantly threatening, while the Stormers’ had very few chances with ball in hand, and when they did, they cut their own time on the ball short with mistakes. They also kicked aimlessly to gain territory, and although nothing came of it as the Bulls backs just fielded and got right back into running at them, it continued for a good portion of the first half. Kurt-Lee Arendse was particularly potent under the high ball.
The Bulls were far from superb themselves. While they had the upper hand in terms of possession and territory, they didn’t convert those moments into points and managed just one try — not a particularly impressive number considering the amount of time they spent in Stormers’ territory early on. Their driving maul, though, was impressive, and it’s an area that they used to great effect on the hosts.
That one try came when centre Harold Vorster went over after a lineout in Stormers 22, and from the ensuing lineout, they sent it to the middle to score under the posts. Chris Smith added the conversion to take the score to 0-7.
Stormers 10 Manie Libbok had a chance to get on the scoresheet with a straightforward penalty kick in the second quarter, but missed.
The Stormers put together a promising period of play towards the end of the opening 40, and while they didn’t get the big points, Libbok made his attempt off the tee count this time (half time 3-7).
The biggest positive for the Stormers in that first half was openside flanker Deon Fourie.
The 35-year-old — who has been one of the Stormers’ standouts this season — played with a huge hunger in his 100th game for the Stormers, getting stuck in absolutely everywhere and bringing next-level intensity to the Cape side’s efforts.
The Bulls regained a seven-point lead when Smith knocked over a penalty kick early in the second half, but the Stormers responded with their first try when the magnificent Evan Roos forced his way over for the score after the Stormers came away with it at the scrum. Libbok made no mistake this time (10-10) as he added the extras.
The Stormers came out one a mission in the second half and were completely dominant after the break and this time it was them who used their maul (after a stunner of a kick by lock Salmaan Moerat) to devastating effect when replacement hooker Andre-Hugo Venter — who came on for a JJ Kotze in the third quarter after he took a heavy knock — powered through defenders to reach out and score their second (15-10) with the Bulls one man down after centre Cornal Hendricks was shown yellow for dangerous play. Libbok’s kicking woes reared it ugly head again as he missed the attempt.
Smith continued his reliable ways when he connected a penalty to make it a two-point game with 15 minutes to go just before the Bulls returned to full numbers (15-13), but there can be no doubt as to who owned the second half.
With less than five minutes to go, the Stormers came close to scoring again, and while they didn’t get over the try line, Libbok saw to it that they put five points between them and the Bulls when he kicked a drop goal with the clock ticking down (18-13).
With the hooter having gone, the Bulls put on one last attempt at the Stormers’ try line as they worked the ball through the hands, but the Stormers gained possession and kicked out after the final ruck to claim a famous victory.
Stormers 18 — Tries: Evan Roos, Andre-Hugo Venter Conversion: Manie Libbok Drop goal: Libbok Penalty: Libbok (1)
Bulls 13 — Try: Harold Vorster Conversion: Chris Smith Penalties: Smith (2) Yellow card: Cornal Hendricks