Springbok discard Morne Steyn sent a message to the national selectors that he isn’t done just yet as he steered the Vodacom Bulls to a 25-17 win over the DHL Stormers with a 20 point haul at Loftus Versfeld on Friday night.
While Steyn still has his faults, he overshadowed a poor debut for the Stormers by Elton Jantjies and kept the Bulls scoreboard ticking over so they could start their Vodacom Super Rugby campaign on a high note.
While Jantjies missed his four shots at goal, Steyn slotted three in the first half to set up a 9-0 halftime lead, and then kept on pushing the Bulls ahead in the second when the Stormers threatened to come back at them.
If there was a way to answer his critics, Steyn did it on the night, although consistency will be needed to bring him back into favour with the selectors with a host of other contenders all ahead of him in the pecking order at this stage.
On a night when the Stormers arrived as favourites, they looked overconfident and failed to respond to the Bulls' pressure game plan that kept them pinned in their own half, with Steyn ensuring they struggled to cross the halfway line.
It was also a signal that the Bulls need to be taken seriously this year, as many have written them off already before the tournament began.
They did what Bulls sides of the past did so well. They choked their opposition, kept the scoreboard ticking and made the Stormers chase the game, something the two time conference winners haven’t done well in the past few years.
The Stormers may have used the media to signal their intentions to target the Bulls scrum in the week, but at the end of the game, the Bulls probably came out on top, with debutant Morne Mellet holding firm and Werner Kruger winning the individual battle against Steven Kitshoff.
It was the scrum that made the difference in the end, milking penalties for the Bulls at crucial times, and keeping the Stormers under pressure both on the scoreboard and on the field.
The Bulls pack will also feel they had the upper hand on the field, while the fierce lineout battle was probably even in the end.
Steyn’s boot was the difference early on, but the Stormers did make a game of it early in the second half, when they finally found success through a Jean de Villiers try that was confirmed by the TMO after a lengthy process.
The try, and an ensuing penalty by Joe Pietersen, who stepped in with aplomb to remind Allister Coetzee of both his kicking and attacking prowess, brought the Stormers within range, with the score 12-10 as it closed on an hour.
But the Bulls simply stepped up a gear and made the most of their chances, with Steyn slotting two more penalties to take them further than a try ahead, before Francois Hougaard stabbed a kick through and Chiliboy Ralepelle scored.
The try, which had to be confirmed by the TMO, found that Ralepelle was in an offside position, but was put on-side when the ball touched Frans Malherbe’s boot. And with the decision the game was sealed as the Bulls went 15 points clear.
Andries Bekker grabbed a try back in the dying minutes, but it was never going to be enough.
The Bulls had played tactically astute, and while it wasn’t a game that will be remembered as a classic, the win is all that will count for the home side.
Vodacom Bulls – Try: Chiliboy Ralepelle. Conversion: Morne Steyn. Penalties: Steyn (6).
DHL Stormers – Tries: Jean de Villiers, Andries Bekker. Conversions: Joe Pietersen (2). Penalty. Pietersen