WELLINGTON – Whatever you think of pre-season games, there was nothing to suggest that the 26-26 Super Rugby warm-up draw between the Stormers and the Bulls at Boland Stadium on Saturday wasn’t taken seriously by either side.
In a game filled with big hits, hard runs, ferocious breakdown work – especially by the Bulls – promising attacks and a good number of individual spells, it was a tight battle throughout, one that easily could have and was probably expected to go either way on a hot afternoon in Wellington.
It COULD have gone either way, but you wouldn’t be blamed for putting your money on the Bulls as they were simply superb.
In the Stormers’ second and last friendly before they kickoff their Super Rugby proceedings against the Jaguares at Newlands on February 17, they had to deal with a Bulls side that threw everything at them throughout the match.
But the Stormers didn’t lack in intent either, and they certainly looked to create something whenever they could – whether that was in the form of attacking kicks, a slick pass here or a promising step there.
It was the Bulls’ physicality that stood out, and the way they smothered the Stormers ball-carriers with their defence could easily be confused with a group of iron pieces flooding to a ball-carrying magnet.
But that doesn’t mean that the Bulls neglected or weren’t sharp on attack, not at all.
They were, and a perfect example of their attacking sting was when replacement back Embrose Papier sniped though Stormers defenders in their 22 to score the try that took it to 26-26, after the never-silent, pumping crowd of around 10 000 had seemingly just got cosy with the idea of a victory for their team.
After a tough opening 10 minutes, Bulls flank Roelof Smit converted their work – which saw them put the Stormers’ defence under pressure – into points when he dived over for the try after a maul. Marnitz Boshoff added the conversion.
The Stormers got an opportunity to level the scores after some nice, quick hands by centre Damian de Allende gave EW Viljoen the chance to pace in for a slick five-pointer. Flyhalf Damian Willemse added the conversion.
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But the Bulls had the last say on the stroke of halftime, and their hard running and pure physicality sent scrumhalf André Warner over for the converted try and a 14-7 lead for the visitors.
The Stormers wasted no time when the second half started, and loose forward Cobus Wiese did well to break from a driving maul and get the try to level the scores at 14-14. Willemse made no mistake with this conversion either.
But in the 48th minute, the Bulls hit again with another try to regain the lead.
In what was quite the tug of war in terms of the scoreboard, Craig Barry added his name to the Stormers’ list of try-scorers after some hard work by the forwards before the ball was sent out wide.
And in the last quarter, replacement flyhalf George Whitehead sent a beautifully executed cross-kick to the corner for loose forward Johan du Toit to pounce on and score for a 26-19 Stormers advantage.
But again, the Bulls spoiled the crowd’s celebrations with a touchdown through hooker Adriaan Strauss
With less than a minute left to play, the Stormers fumbled a scrum in own half, but the Bulls failed to hit the black dot as they attempted the first penalty kick of the game and the scored remained deadlocked.
Stormers 26 – Tries: EW Viljoen, Cobus Wiese, Craig Barry, Johan du Toit. Conversions: Damian Willemse (2), George Whitehead (1).
Bulls 26 – Tries: Roelof Smit, André Warner, Adriaan Strauss, Embrose Papier. Conversions: Marnitz Boshoff (2), Manie Libbok (1).