Late penalty miss denies Bulls
Gavin Rich
February 03, 2018

A missed penalty off the last act of the game denied the Vodacom Bulls what would have been a thoroughly deserved win over the DHL Stormers and left the two arch-rivals to settle for a 26-all draw in a Super Rugby warm-up game at Boland Stadium on Saturday.

The Bulls were the stronger team on balance, particularly in the first half, and it was confounding that the visitors from Pretoria (well, they were officially the home team due to their twinning agreement with Boland but they don’t live in the Cape) weren’t further than 14-7 ahead at the break.

They would probably have been out of sight had this been a normal competition game, as the Bulls turned down numerous kickable penalties in the first half that would have squeezed the Stormers and created scoreboard pressure.

However, the Stormers, despite being turned over often at the breakdown and conceding several breakdown penalties, were solid on defence and were able to hang in there on a sweltering hot day and in a game played before an eager crowd of around 10 000.

In the second half the Stormers did come back strongly and they looked to have the game won when Johan du Toit was up to catch an excellent George Whitehead cross-kick on the bounce in the in-goal area to score a try that put the Stormers 26-19 ahead with the conversion kick to come and just 10 minutes left.

However Whitehead was unable to convert to take his team more than a score ahead, and it gave the Bulls, who were always dangerous on the counter-attack, the sniff that they needed. Embrose Papier slid through for the try beneath the posts that Libbock converted to level the scores at 26-all with just three and a half minutes left.

The Bulls finished the stronger side and were on the attack at the end. The penalty wasn’t from a difficult field position and if it was scored, a Bulls win would not have been anything less than they deserved for their industry and their busy playing style. They will probably have ended the game feeling the happier of the two teams two weeks ahead of the Super Rugby kick-off (two weeks for the Stormers, three for the Bulls, who have a bye in the first week).

Roelof Smit was impressive for the Bulls at the breakdown, and it was fitting he should score their first try. The Stormers’ best and only chance in the first 25 minutes came from a JD Schickerling break, but the impressive lock’s pass inside to Raymond Rhule, who would have had a near clear run to the tryline, was spilled.

The Stormers did capitalise on their rare period of pressure a few minutes later though when EW Viljoen was put over in the right corner off some excellent work by Damian de Allende, the Springbok centre who is starting to show some improved form in the build-up to the new season.

The Bulls made sure they gained the halftime lead they deserved with an impressive attack that put Andre Warner in down the right flank. The Stormers’ second try came early in the second half, with Cobus Wiese going over off an attacking lineout.

The Bulls’ scrum looked steadier than it has for quite a while against the Cape’s premier team, but it needs to be noted that although Steven Kitshoff came on after halftime for the Stormers, they lost another Springbok front-row forward in the form of Wilco Louw to an injury in the early minutes. The injury did not look too serious as Louw was able to walk from the field and did not look in any discomfort, though more will be learned from the Stormers' medical staff in the coming days.

Both teams scored four tries and entertainment and excitement was provided for the crowd in a match where the only penalty that was kicked for the posts was the Bulls’ potential winner at the final whistle. It was a measure of the Bulls’ dominance that the Stormers did not get awarded many penalties in what would have been kickable positions in the first two thirds of the match.

Overall, it should have been exactly the sort of hard-fought and close game that both teams needed ahead of the season kick-off. The Stormers open their Super Rugby campaign against the Jaguares at Newlands two weeks hence.

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