It was the biggie. The North/South derby match. The one that everyone had been talking about even more since they realised that this season, it might actually make some meaningful difference to the final standings of the Super 14 table.
We parked the kids with a handy Mother-in-Law, I dosed myself up with MedLemon and Corenza Para-C, chose to ignore the ongoing viral guests which have been (literally) plaguing me all week and headed down to the aging Newlands Stadium along with 49,000 others, in order to witness the fiercest rivalry in South African rugby.
And the Stormers of Cape Town were on a hiding to nothing. Ever since the Bulls (of Pretoria) announced that they would be resting “several” of their first team players for the match, the home side were in a metaphorical no win situation.
Lose and you’re the laughing stock of the country. Win and no-one is impressed, because you’re only playing the Bulls’ B team – albeit with several Springboks in the side.
At this point, for less-informed readers, I should perhaps explain that I don’t mean actual springbok springboks – as in the little antelope things – look, they’re bloody fast, but their lack of ball-carrying abilities renders them near useless in the more technical aspects of the modern game of rugby. Like, for instance, ball-carrying.
Seriously, if someone were to genetically engineer a robust and dependable ball-carrying arm onto an actual springbok springbok, I swear every rugby team in the world would be trying to sign it up.
But I digress.
What I mean is that several of the so-called Bulls’ B team have played rugby for South Africa at international level. So they weren’t actually that ‘B’ at all. Add to that the fact the many of the Bulls side didn’t have a match last week to recover from and – more cynically – that they didn’t have to be concerned about any suspensions for the upcoming semi-finals either, since presumably the A-team would be back for that game.
At this point, for less-informed readers, I should perhaps explain that I don’t mean the actual A-Team – as in Hannibal, Face, Murdoch and BA Baracus… oh… never mind.
But from the very first kick, it was clear that this was going to be one way traffic. The Stormers went ahead early through ex-Bulls winger Bryan Habana and never really looked back. Let’s not forget, that for all the Bulls’ excellent performances this season, it’s the Stormers who have the best defence record in the league (by some clear margin) and that defence never looked to be in serious danger tonight. Habana got his second try after 23 minutes before crowd favourite Andries Bekker added a third on 27 – effectively ending the game as a contest – at least as far as the scoreline was concerned.
Down 28-3 at half time, the Bulls did seem to come out for the second period with the sole intention of injuring as many Stormers players as possible. And by whatever means. There were a couple of shoulder charges, some nasty little exchanges after the ball had gone and one shocking incident involving a horrifying chainsaw attack on the Stormers’ scrum-half.
(I may have made that last one up.)
Job done, the second half was less entertaining than the first. Stormers’ centre Jacques Fourie dotted down to take the score to 38-3 and then the Stormers started resting their first team as well, a home semi-final (their first since 1999) against the NSW Waratahs already in the bag. With many key players taken off, the Bulls snatched a consolation try in the 78th minute.
It was a disappointing way to finish, but the job was done. And while – as I mentioned before – Pretoria fans will be anxious to remind everyone that this was hardly their starting XV, the history books will just list the final score: 38-10.
Bragging rights are therefore, for the moment at least, quietly settling down into a worn leather armchair with an expensive glass of brandy at a trendy yet understated cigar bar in central Cape Town.
Next week, South Africa hosts the two semi-finals: Bulls v Crusaders and Stormers v Waratahs. If results go with the home sides, it will be another Bulls v Stormers match-up in an all South African Super 14 final on 29th May – but this time, with the Bulls’ A-team – who will presumably have been locked in a garage with only a bakkie, a couple of tonnes of scrap metal and some welding equipment in the intervening period – in full attendance.
Watch this space.
Cross-posted at the SA Portfolio Collection Travel Blog