It may have been the start of the spanking new Super Rugby season, but the Stormers’ troubles on the road continued at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday night with a 40-3 Super Rugby thrashing at the hands of the Bulls.
The visitors failed to win a single game away from their Newlands base in 2018, and a rampant Bulls team ensured nothing will change just yet for Robbie Fleck’s men with a comprehensive bonus-point triumph over their oldest rivals.
The Bulls – as they promised – did not resemble anything they showed in the SuperHero Sunday warm-up clash between the two teams at Cape Town Stadium a fortnight ago.
In fact, the only similarity was their outfits, with the Bulls running out in their Marvel-themed Captain America-inspired kit.
They were excellent in the set-piece, particularly the lineouts, where the Stormers suffered a nightmare first half.
The hosts showed great imagination out wide, with Springbok Sevens superstar Rosko Specman shining splendidly on his Super Rugby debut with two tries.
Relishing the opportunity to showcase his worth in the 15-man code, Specman jinked, danced and sped his way into the hearts of the Bulls faithful with an exhilarating display on the left wing.
His first try was a carbon copy of what sevens fans around the world have become accustomed to.
With only inches of spaces to work with, the dreadlocked former Blitzboks flyer stepped inside an advancing Dillyn Leyds, before leaving prop Wilco Louw for dead to break open the Stormers defence.
But it was another Bulls debutant that also had everyone purring.
In his return to Super Rugby, Springbok No 8 Duane Vermeulen was outstanding against his former team.
The 32-year-old showed he has lost none of his appetite for the rough stuff after stints overseas at Toulon in France and Japan, driving the Bulls forward with big ball-carries, allowing the home team the advantage of 252 metres gained in comparison to the Stormers’ 62 metres at halftime.
This allowed scrumhalf Embrose Papier acres of space to clear the base of the ruck in order to unleash the dangerous Bulls backline. And no one was more menacing than Specman.
The opening Bulls try was not the wake-up call the visitors desperately needed, though, after earlier having been delayed on their way to the ground through a major accident on the M1 highway.
Despite the Bulls offering up a plethora of penalties early on, the Stormers could only muster a long-range three points from the boot of SP Marais. It would remain their only effort on a hugely disappointing night.
They simply failed to take advantage of the lineouts resulting from the penalty infringements.
Instead, they surrendered possession on their own throws with gratuitous regularity, which allowed the Bulls to come roaring back into Stormers territory.
Top-level teams make the opposition pay dearly for such carelessness, and that’s exactly what the Bulls did through the brilliance of Specman again.
With the outside back enjoying an almost telepathic relationship with fullback Warrick Gelant, who popped a beautiful pass for Specman to glide through for his, and the Bulls’ second try within the first 20 minutes.
Five minutes had not passed since Specman’s second, and the Stormers players were again standing with their hands on their heads under the poles.
Only this time it was his fellow wing Johnny Kotze that crossed the whitewash after benefiting from some slick handling down the Bulls backline, particularly from another former Stormers icon Schalk Brits making his Bulls debut after a successful overseas sojourn.
For the Stormers to have any chance of coming back into the contest, they needed to strike first in the second half, but that was not to be, with Jesse Kriel gathering a delicate Handre Pollard chip over the defence to score untouched.
Pollard was certainly pulling the strings at this stage, driving back the Stormers with a couple of raking touch-finders, while also being dead accurate from the kicking tee to finish with eight from eight on the night.
The Stormers will leave the nation’s capital with plenty to ponder, particularly the injury to captain Siya Kolisi, who was forced to leave the field early on in the first half through injury.
In contrast, the Bulls will take plenty of confidence from a near-perfect performance, and will look forward to their trip to Argentina, where they face the Jaguares.