Stormers blow it in final seconds as Bulls fightback secures Loftus victory
CAPE TOWN – The Stormers were denied a memorable victory at Loftus Versfeld with a last-second knock-on as the Bulls overturned a six-point half-time deficit to clinch a hard-fought 34-29 win on Friday night.
A late penalty try to the Bulls, following a deliberate knock-down and yellow card to Ruhan Nel, swayed the game in the home side’s favour.
In a dramatic final play of the match, Stormers No 8 Juarno Augustus crossed the line, but as he tried to dot the ball down, he lost it forward, and the Bulls could breathe a sigh of relief.
While these preparation matches are essentially about building depth and trying new tricks, Bulls coach Jake White will be delighted with the fighting spirit of his team.
Captain Nizaam Carr and his men never gave up despite being on the wrong side of referee AJ Jacobs’ whistle for much of the night, and having to deal with a Stormers side that was full of running and ready for the physical battle as well.
Initially, it was the Bulls who set the pace, with new fullback Richard Kriel rounding off easily in the fourth minute after multiple phases from the forwards and backs, until Cornal Hendricks delivered the try-scoring offload.
But as the first half wore on, the Stormers’ forwards gradually took charge. They dominated the scrums, while the likes of captain Salmaan Moerat, flank Marcel Theunissen and No 8 Juarno Augustus prominent in the tight exchanges.
Fullback Damian Willemse also stamped his authority on proceedings, mixing some deft footwork with clever kicks downfield, along with centre Rikus Pretorius’ strong running in midfield.
After Kade Wolhuter reduced the Bulls’ lead with a penalty, wing Leolin Zas grabbed the first of his two tries by handing-off Stedman Gans in uncompromising fashion in the 23rd minute.
Wolhuter slotted the conversion and another penalty, and suddenly the Stormers were 13-7 ahead.
And Zas wasn’t quite finished, as he sauntered over for a superb touchdown after strong runs by centres Nel and Pretorius.
The Bulls did manage to grab a crucial try just before the break, with hooker Joe van Zyl forcing his way over from a lineout drive.
At 20-14 in front, though, the Stormers would have been confident of maintaining their lead, but the Bulls were quickest out of the blocks in the second half.
Wonderful hands from Madosh Tambwe and Kriel saw wing Marco Jansen van Vuren receiving possession, and he powered through a few tackles to bring the Bulls to within a point at 20-19.
That score seemed to galvanise the Bulls again, as they stretched the Stormers from side to side with ball-in-hand, although the Capetonians were resolute in defence.
Replacement flank Tim Agaba nearly made the breakthrough for the hosts, but he lost the ball forward over the tryline, but the Bulls eventually hit back through lock Ruan Nortjé, who crossed the whitewash after Marco van Staden’s surge forward.
Just before that, Tim Swiel landed a penalty, so the Stormers were still ahead by two points at 26-24.
Then came the first piece of drama, where Nel was sent off when he slapped down a pass from Hendricks – who produced a terrific run of his own – and the officials felt it was worthy of a penalty try.
Morné Steyn added a further three points to make it 34-29 before the Stormers launched one final attack. Coach for the match, Labeeb Levy, would have been jumping for joy when Augustus dived over the line in the fourth minute of injury time, but the euphoria was short-lived as TV replays showed the No 8 had lost the ball.
Bulls 34 – Tries: Richard Kriel, Joe van Zyl, Marco Jansen van Vuren, Ruan Nortjé, Penalty Try. Conversions: Chris Smith (2). Penalty: Morné Steyn (1).
Stormers 29 – Tries: Leolin Zas (2). Conversions: Kade Wolhuter (2). Penalties: Wolhuter (3), Tim Swiel (2).