The DHL Stormers avenged their opening round defeat with an emphatic 16-0 victory over the Bulls at Newlands in Cape Town on Saturday that confirmed the three-time champion team’s exit from this year’s Vodacom Super Rugby title race.
The anticipated inclement weather wasn’t there to greet the Bulls at the kick-off but they were greeted by a Stormers team that hit them with the force of a typhoon as they swarmed over their opponents like an angry swarm of bees.
The Stormers struggled in the lineouts, but that was the only thing that kept the visitors in the game in a first half where the hosts could easily have run up more than 30 points such was their overwhelming overall superiority.
The rain did arrive in the end, but by the time it did there were 25 minutes to go and the Bulls trailed by 16 points. It was thought beforehand that wet weather might help the Bulls, but a slippery ball and field never helps a team with a big catch-up job to do, which was what the visitors from Pretoria faced at that point.
The Stormers made their intentions known from the kick-off. Their first touch of the ball resulted in a sustained attack that went through umpteen phases and lasted for longer than three minutes as the Stormers patiently built up towards the Bulls line. They were only held up just short, by which time the referee Craig Joubert was signaling a penalty.
Kurt Coleman, who had another fine game for the Stormers, kicked it to put the Stormers into a 3-0 lead and it was a lead they were to hold throughout the match.
That early salvo had got the big 34 000 crowd, which was impressive if you consider the Stormers’ position on the log and the predicted weather, in behind the Stormers, and they never let up.
After 14 minutes it was 10-0 to the Stormers as the irrepressible Nizaam Carr took a pass in the tackle from Coleman, who had made the initial break, and then Carr transferred to fullback Jaco Taute, who rounded off.
There could in truth have been many more tries for the Stormers in that first half such was their dominance of the territorial battle, but time and again they were turned over with a breakdown penalty near the Bulls line, or the lineout went awry.
Certainly that latter phase is something that the Stormers are going to have to give attention to this coming week if they want to see off the Sharks here next Saturday.
The lineout went so horribly wrong for the Stormers that at times it almost seemed pointless for them to kick the penalties for touch as it was tantamount to surrendering possession.
That is not to say though that the Stormers forwards weren’t good. They may have come short at lineout time, but Michael Rhodes and Ruan Botha joined the rest in giving the Stormers a key advantage in the physical battle.
By winning the collisions, and ensuring the Stormers were always on the front foot, the expected threat of the visiting halfback duo of Francois Hougaard and Handre Pollard was negated.
Instead it was Coleman who shone, with his little touches in the pivot position again translating into multiple options for the Stormers on attack, and it may not be that much of a coincidence that his arrival in the No 10 has coincided with the Stormers resurgence.
And resurgence it is, for this was the fourth successive match the Stormers have won, and they have now well and truly re-established Newlands as a fortress if you consider you now have to go back three matches, the Western Force game, to when last the opposition scored a point here.
They hammered the Cheetahs 33-0 in their last match at Newlands, and this was their first ever whitewash of the Bulls in Super Rugby.
For the record, the last time the Stormers lost was when they sent a depleted team to face this same Bulls team at Loftus on 10 May.
The Stormers that day shocked the Bulls early on with two great tries before falling away as the Bulls systematically took control.
So, the Stormers fans with long memories may have had reservations about their team’s ability to continue at the high intensity with which they started.
They did fall away a bit in the second half, at least in the third quarter, when the territorial spread of the first half was reversed, but the Stormers have grown a great deal since that Pretoria match nearly two months ago and they never gave the Bulls a sniff.
In the early days of the turn-around there were concerns that the ball in hand approach was costing the Stormers on defence, but that has been made up for and then some if you consider how tight the Stormers have been defensively in recent matches.
They hit the Bulls with great ferocity in this game and there will be some bruised Bulls bodies on the plane back to Gauteng on Sunday.
Carr deservedly won the man of the match award, but there would have been several other contenders, such as Duane Vermeulen, Coleman, Botha and even Sailosi Tagicakibau, who cut an immense presence at outside centre before being replaced late in the game.
Stormers - Try: Jaco Taute. Conversion: Kurt Coleman. Penalties: Kurt Coleman (3).