The Vodacom Bulls were narrowly edged out by the DHL Stormers in a bruising 19-23 loss at Loftus Versfeld. The two South African rivals met in round 14 of the 2022/23 Vodacom United Rugby Championship.
The clash – dubbed South Africa’s oldest derby between two rivals – played out in front of a historic audience of 41 205 rugby-loving fans. Setting a new record for a United Rugby Championship clash in the Southern Hemisphere.
The opening stanza was a traditional arm wrestle that was centralised around precision kicking as Chris Smith converted all four penalty kicks, while his counterpart from the Cape, Manie Libbok, made good of his single kick at poles. The game’s opening try was on the stroke of the half-hour match, with the visitors running out wide to go over the line, closing the gap to 2 points with 12 minutes left in the half.
On the stroke of halftime, the visiting Stormers were awarded a spot kick which saw them take a slender 12-13 lead into the break.
The teams returned from the pause with the same gees as put on display in the opening half, trading blows and entertaining a record audience – for a franchise game – hosted at Loftus since 2013.
It was the visitors who went over the line for their second converted try of the match, to stretch their lead to 8 points on the stroke of the hour mark. Asking their hosts to step up the tempo if they were to get any chance back into the game, with the clock winding down.
The Pretoria outfit looked threatening all match long, coming close to converting scoring opportunities but the Capetonians remained resolute in defense. An untimely yellow card for David Kriel for a brilliant attempted interception didn’t dampen the herd, who continued their pursuit of a converted try and this came through the light-footed winger, Sbu Nkosi with Morne Steyn [on his 150th Super Rugby/URC appearance] converting the try to bring the game to within a point.
With 7 minutes left on the clock, the defending champions setup the perfect opportunity for a drop goal and that would be enough to seal a 19-23 victory over their Northern rivals.
At the post-match conference, Director of Rugby, Jake White said: “We’re not dead yet, but we would have been much more alive if we won this game. We still have hope in the competition, but we’ve got a tough draw now. Our destiny is in other guys winning or losing and if we finish fifth, we’ll end up playing the guys who are fourth,”
“You may finish in that position, and you have to play Leinster away and that’s tough. It’s not going to get easier for anybody.”
White went on to add: “Sometimes it [these match situations] goes for you and sometimes it doesn’t. We’re going to have to find solutions to how we handle pressure and the only way to learn is to put people under pressure,”
“It can’t be simulated at training, but I’ll get it right and we did well to finish in the way that we did considering where we were, and the cycle will turn” he concluded.
VODACOM BULLS SCORERS:
Try: Sbu Nkosi
Conversion: Morne Steyn
Penalties: Chris Smith x 4
VODACOM BULLS STARTING XV: 1. Gerhard Steenekamp, 2. Johan Grobbelaar, 3. Mornay Smith, 4. Jacques Du Plessis, 5. Ruan Nortje (c), 6. Marco van Staden, 7. Cyle Brink, 8. Elrigh Louw, 9. Zak Burger, 10. Chris Smith, 11. Sbu Nkosi, 12. Harold Vorster, 13. Wandisile Simelane, 14. Cornal Hendricks, 15. David Kriel
VODACOM BULLS IMPACT SQUAD: 16. Jan-Hendrik Wessels, 17. Simphiwe Matanzima, 18. Francois Klopper, 19. Ruan Vermaak, 20. Nizaam Carr, 21. Embrose Papier, 22. Morne Steyn, 23. Lionel Mapoe
MANAGEMENT: Jake White – Director of Rugby, Nollis Marais – Breakdown, Russell Winter – Forwards, Chris Rossouw – Backs, Werner Kruger – Scrum Coach, Pine Pienaar – Defense Coach, Andre Volsteedt – Strength & Conditioning, John-William Meyer – Technical Analyst, Dr. Herman Rossouw – Team Doctor, Lance Lemmetjies – Senior Physiotherapist, Kyle Meyer – Physiotherapist, Elias Bennett – Team Manager, Simon Dyidi – Logistics Manager