PRETORIA – Former Springbok captain Adriaan Strauss rolled back the years as he celebrated being the most-capped SA Super Rugby player with a hat trick of tries to help his stuttering Bulls side to a 33-23 win over the Stormers at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday night.
It was by no means a vintage Strauss performance, but the man who had looked to be cast into the rugby wilderness after his retirement from international rugby two years ago showed that there is still some bite left in the old dog on the day of his 149th appearance in his 13th season in the competition.
Strauss’ tries were vital in handing the hosts the lead from as early as the sixth minute, but more importantly, it was the two first-half scores from rolling mauls that underlined the home side’s dominance in the trenches.
And it was the hat trick try, even though fortunate from a Stormers overthrow at a lineout, that gave the Bulls an eight-point breathing gap and ensured the Stormers were always going to need to score twice to take the lead.
The Stormers did chance their hand for a second-half comeback, with hard-working captain Siya Kolisi crashing over the whitewash to bring his side within three points.
But even with the visitors hoarding much of the possession in the latter stages, they committed far too many errors and cheaply gave away possession at critical moments of their charge.
While the Bulls were hanging on for dear life, they somehow managed to show the maturity and patience that has lacked in recent weeks by constantly driving the Stormers backwards.
And when they did have an opportunity to finish off the game, they did so through Jesse Kriel’s 70th-minute try.
Much of the hard graft in engineering their second win of the season had been in the first half hour of the game, when the Bulls bossed the scrums and lineouts, while Springbok flyhalf Handré Pollard was menacing with ball-in-hand.
Pollard stamped his authority on proceedings through good decision-making, and his appetite for confrontation often gave his team momentum on the front foot while keeping the Stormers defence guessing.
While Pollard and his teammates revelled on playing on home turf after three weeks of being on tour, the Stormers – along with their star flyhalf Damian Willemse – showed a chink in their armour which had them chasing the game from the onset.
Willemse was wayward with his kicking missing a penalty and two conversions, while the Stormers only came into life in the last moments of the first half when Jan de Klerk and Damian de Allende scored to bring the visitors to within one point of the Bulls at halftime.
De Allende was at the heart of the Stormers fightback with his defence-splitting hard running, sudden turn of speed to chase and score with his chip kick, and he also showed an ability to put his outside backs away when the space allowed.
Springbok lock Pieter-Steph du Toit also toiled tirelessly in a bid to gain his side their third consecutive win, but it was not going to be enough, and he should have considered himself fortunate for not seeing red from referee Marius van der Westhuizen after stomping on the head of Bulls lock Hendré Stassen.
But in the end, the day belonged to Strauss and his teammates as they were finally rewarded for the weeks of hard toil that failed to give them the results they so desperately deserved.
Bulls 33 – Tries: Adriaan Strauss (3), Johnny Kotze, Jesse Kriel. Conversions: Handré Pollard (4).
Stormers 23 – Tries: Jan de Klerk, Damian de Allende, Siya Kolisi. Conversion: Damian Willemse (1). Penalties: Willemse (2).