Vodacom Bulls stay on top of the SA Conference – Vodacom Super Rugby Round 16 Review
The Vodacom Bulls firmed their grip on the top position of the South African conference on Saturday by beating closet rivals, the Toyota Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Saturday, while the DHL Stormers kept their outside change of a play-off spot alive with a bruising win over the Southern Kings on a drenched DHL Newlands pitch in Cape Town.
The other South African team, The Sharks, enjoyed a bye.
In Bloemfontein, a rampant Bulls display in the first 60 minutes of their clash against the Toyota Cheetahs, who could have moved past their northern foes with a bonus point win, secured the win at a lively Free State Stadium, where 32 220 spectators rocked up for this highly anticipated derby clash.
The Bulls at one stage held a 30-17 lead and a late comeback by the home side deservedly got them a bonus point for getting within seven points of the winning score. The bonus point helped the Cheetahs to move into fifth on the overall log, past the Crusaders, who also have 46 log points.
The DHL Stormers, are in the next group of chasers along with The Sharks (both have 38 log points), the Hurricanes (39), Waratahs (40) and Blues (43) and will hope the three week break the competition has due to the international incoming tours will give them the energy needed to muster one final effort towards the play-off line.
Their clash against the Southern Kings was a dour affair, compounded by the wet DHL Newlands pitch and atrocious playing conditions as the Western Cape battles a succession of cold fronts.
Two tries from driving mauls by each outfit confirmed the playing options to the two sides, who both needed bonus points.
In clashes elsewhere, the Brumbies kept the top gong in Australia by beating the Hurricanes in Canberra on Friday, while the Crusaders got away with a 23-22 win over the Waratahs in Christchurch.
On Saturday, the Highlanders scored only their second win of the year by beating the Blues in a New Zealand derby, while in Brisbane, the Reds rallied late to beat an ever improving Rebels team.
DHL Stormers 19 (6), Southern Kings 11 (3)
The DHL Stormers ended any talk or speculation about relegation from Vodacom Super Rugby by systematically squeezing the life out of the Southern Kings en route to a 19-11 win at a drenched Newlands on Saturday.
The game was fairly close on the scoreboard for most of the way, but then it was always going to be on a sodden field after long periods of torrential downpours earlier in the day.
What was required to win was a strong tight-phase platform and a good kicking game, and that was what the Stormers provided.
They drove strongly in the early stages, which was when they established a bridgehead against their neighbours from Port Elizabeth, with two penalties in the first 10 minutes propelling the hosts into a 6-0 lead that was valuable in the conditions.
As the match progressed so the Kings began to find their feet and fight their way back into it. George Whitehead kicked a penalty after a quarter of an hour to close the deficit to three points, and that was how it stayed until halftime. Whitehead started at flyhalf for the Kings as first choice Demetri Catrakilis was forced to withdraw at the 11th hour with a calf injury.
Considering the conditions, both teams deserve credit for how they tried to play, but the driving maul was always going to be the most likely source of profit when it came to try-scoring. And that was how it proved, with the Stormers effectively wrapping up the match with a quarter of an hour remaining as Deon Fourie dotted down off a rare drive that the Kings couldn’t cope with.
Full marks to the Kings for again showing the character and fighting spirit that has been the hallmark of their play this season. Wimpie van der Walt dotted down off a drive after 73 minutes, and then they stormed straight back onto the attack and were camping on the Stormers' line in the last minutes of the game.
DHL Stormers - Try: Deon Fourie. Conversion: Joe Pietersen. Penalties: Pietersen (4).
Southern Kings – Try: Wimpie van der Walt. Penalties: George Whitehead (2).
Vodacom Bulls 30 (17), Toyota Cheetahs 25 (10)
The Vodacom Bulls kept up their unbeaten record against the Toyota Cheetahs, winning a thrilling game 30-25 in Bloemfontein on Saturday night. The victory set up the Bulls perfectly to win the South African conference, and with three games left in the Vodacom Super Rugby competition, they will go into the June break knowing they are on track to grab a home semifinal.
But on a night where the Bulls dominated everything beyond the scrum, their finishing was off-key and had they converted many of their chances they would have won a lot more comfortably.
They had to endure a late comeback from the home side, as two tries were awarded by TMO decisions to give the Cheetahs a bonus point at the end.
The Bulls signalled their intent early, and after stealing the Cheetahs lineout early on, a chip and chase by Bjorn Basson saw JJ Engelbrecht dotting down, only for TMO Gerrie Coetzee to rule a knock on.
It didn’t matter much, because with the possession the Bulls had it wasn’t long before they were on the board, with two waves of attack setting up the move before Chiliboy Ralepelle burst through and then Werner Kruger went over.
The Cheetahs hit straight back as Willie le Roux chipped over the defence in trademark style and collected to score, giving the 32322 crowd much to cheer about. But after that the Bulls took control, although their finishing was much to be desired.
When they did get it right, as with the lineout drive that led to their second try, it almost looked too easy.
A great take at the setpiece set up Deon Stegmann, who surged over with Arno Botha’s help to put the Bulls 14-7 up. Morné Steyn managed to keep his side in front as penalties were swopped, but the Bulls would have felt disappointed as they went 17-10 in the lead at the break.
Steyn’s slow poison took control of the game in the second half, and although he missed one kick, two more successful penalties gave the Bulls a controlling 23-10 lead. They sealed the game when Jan Serfontein broke through and popped a pass to Engelbrecht, who unloaded to Dewald Potgieter, who in turn sent Jano Vermaak away for the try.
At 30-10 up, the game was sealed, and all that was really in question was whether or not the Bulls would get a bonus point try. But as happens so often between these two sides, the Cheetahs staged a comeback.
Both sides will enjoy the break now and regroup at the end of June, knowing that they both have a realistic chance, but that the Bulls, by virtue of winning this game, are likely to end as conference winners.
Toyota Cheetahs - Tries: Willie le Roux, Riaan Smit, Trevor Nyakane. Conversions: Riaan Smit (2). Penalties: Smit (2).
Vodacom Bulls – Tries: Werner Kruger, Deon Stegman, Jano Vermaak. Conversions: Morné Steyn (3). Penalties: Steyn (3).
Other results – Round 16:
Crusaders 23, Waratahs 22 (Christchurch)
Brumbies 30, Hurricanes 23 (Canberra)
Highlanders 38 Blues 28 (Dunedin)
Reds 33, Rebels 20 (Brisbane)