Pretoria - The Stormers’ away win over the Bulls in their final Super Rugby conference game means they get to test the improvement to their game with a home quarterfinal against the Chiefs next week – a team that put 60 points on them at the same stage of the competition last year.
By finishing top of Africa Conference 1, the Stormers draw the same team that has made a mockery of their title credentials. But, this time around, they go into the clash having beaten the Chiefs in the one game they’ve contested this year.
The match had a Barbarians feel to it with both sides combining to score six tries (three apiece) in the first half.
It was the Bulls who scored first through lock Jason Jenkins after thrusts by fellow forwards RG Snyman (lock) and flanker Abongile Nonkontwana.
The Stormers’ response, through wee Cheslin Kolbe, was a case in point for a defence that took its cue from the Baabaas nature of the game. Kolbe beat six defenders through a combination of his usual devastating stepping, literally ducking under their armpits en route to his score.
Those kinds of lapses in defence would come back to haunt the Bulls after they’d scored two more tries – by the workaholic Duncan Matthews and Jesse Kriel – to go 21-12 up, but they relinquished that lead in no time.
A sign of the free room to roam was shown by the fact that winger and sevens star Seabelo Senatla had the most space to run he has had since committing to 15-man rugby. And it was Senatla’s mazy run that led to full-back Dillyn Leyds’ try in the 34th minute, which saw the visitors hit the front for the first time in the game.
Leyds would prove to be the Bulls’ tormentor-in-chief on the day from fullback, carving them up through a combination of his nifty footwork and underrated out-and-out pace.
Lock Eben Etzebeth did the same from a physical perspective, while rookie fly half Damian Willemse looks more at home at this level with each passing week.
With the game close because the Bulls had resolved to fight fire with expansive fire, it was silly of them to give the Stormers a leg up through prop Conraad van Vuuren’s yellow card for a high tackle on Leyds.
As disciplinary lapses go, it was one that cost the hosts 12 points – through captain Siya Kolisi and Willemse’s tries. There was a brief flutter by the hosts as they scored twice again, but the momentum had been handed over.