Cape Town — The last time the Stormers faced the Bulls, Suleiman Hartzenberg scored one of the tries of the season.
The Pretoria outfit arrived at Cape Town Stadium on 23 December hoping to end a three-match losing streak against the defending champions of the United Rugby Championship, but it was not to be as the hosts ran out 37-27 winners in front of a boisterous summer holiday crowd.
And it was teenager Hartzenberg who claimed the best of the four Stormers touchdowns. Star No 8 Hacjivah Dayimani sparked the thrilling passage of play with a surge from his own 22 and offload to lock Ben-Jason Dixon, who found Manie Libbok in space.
The Stormers No 10 drew two defenders and passed to Damian Willemse, and the fullback popped the ball to Angelo Davids, who delivered the scoring pass to Hartzenberg.
The SA Under-20 speedster will hope to produce a similar effort when the Stormers travel to Pretoria for Saturday’s showdown with the Bulls at Loftus, but is almost in disbelief just to be rubbing shoulders with the best at such a young age.
“The level of excitement is completely different (for a Bulls game) because of the preparation during the week … The crowd is also a major factor, because there is a different type of atmosphere at the stadium for a game like this,” Hartzenberg told the Stormers website this week.
“The fixture against the Bulls has a lot of history behind it.
“I wouldn’t say that it is easy, but the environment that the coaches and the players created made it easier for me to adapt to. With the Stormers being the URC champions and ending on such a high last season, that pressure came by itself.
“Personally, you naturally add pressure on yourself too, but what really helped calm me was players like Salmaan (Moerat), Ruhan (Nel), Seabelo (Senatla), Leolin (Zas), Adre (Smith), Junior (Pokomela) and the coaches.
“It gave me great confidence that both the coaches and players believe in me; which made me feel like I wasn’t just there to fill in a gap.”
It has been a quick rise to the top for the youngster from Manenberg, who attended Bishops on a bursary and hasn’t looked back.
Hartzenberg was one of the stand-outs in the Junior Springboks’ successful Summer Series campaign in Italy last year, and he was rewarded with a call-up to the SA A side on their November tour of Europe.
He boasts a rich rugby pedigree, with older brothers Yaasir (a loose forward for Western Province, Pumas and Griffons) and Munier (a wing for Griquas and Cheetahs) having played provincial rugby before.
“Coming from a family of rugby players just made me fall in love with the game further,” said the 19-year-old Suleiman, who is equally comfortable at outside centre and right wing.
“There were so many rugby conversations that it was so easy to speak about. After a game, we would all chat about where we could have improved, but also shared many laughs together.
“Having older brothers who have been through the rugby system definitely helped and guided me as I was able to learn from them.
“My initial reaction to the news of making the (SA A) team is something that I cannot describe. I don’t think there is a specific word that can explain it.
“Being among so many experienced and talented players and coaches definitely made me look at the game differently. I’ve learnt that the smallest decisions can change a result.
“Unfortunately the results did not go our way, but reflecting back on it now, I actually walked away with more knowledge about the game than I came in with.
“Being in the room with coaches and players from other unions allowed me to learn from them, which helped improve my game.”