Bulls fend off Stormers for title

Bulls fend off Stormers for title
By Reuters

30/05/2010 at 03:43Updated 30/05/2010 at 05:00

Blue Bulls held off a second-half comeback by Western Stormers to win an all-South African Super 14 final 25-17 atthe Orlando Stadium in the famous Black township of Soweto.

Flyhalf Morne Steyn kicked 20 points to help the Bulls clinch their third Super 14 title in four years.

Steyn kicked six penalties and converted Francois Hougaard's brilliant individual try to make sure the holders were always clear of a Stormers team that fought back bravely in the second half from a 16-3 deficit at the break.

Bulls captain and lock Victor Matfield, who led from the front with an immense all-round display, said his team had won what he called the toughest competition in the world.

"To be champions after 16 weeks, you just have to enjoy it," Matfield said.

The Bulls enjoyed a telling advantage at scrum time, with three of Steyn's penalties coming after the retreating Stormers had infringed in that set-piece.

"The front row was where the game was won, with all those penalties," Matfield added. "We tired them out in the scrums and the front row was outstanding tonight. They won us the game."

Hougaard's try came in the 25th minute as he sped through a gap in the Stormers' defensive line between locks Andries Bekker and Adriaan Fondse, running from the 10 metre line before sidestepping fullback Joe Pietersen in the last line of defence.

The try capped a thoroughly dominant first half for the Bulls, who looked well in control as Steyn added three penalties to the try, so it came as a surprise when the home side made a scrappy start to the second half and allowed the visitors from Cape Town back into the game.

Wing Bryan Habana scored an opportunist intercept try in the 54th minute when Steyn passed straight to his former team mate after the Bulls won messy ball from a ruck on their own 10m line. Habana scored under the poles to give flyhalf Peter Grant an easy conversion, putting the Stormers back into contention at 16-10 down.

But with a capacity crowd of 36,000 providing a sea of light blue support, with the noisy accompaniment of plastic horns known locally as "vuvuzelas", the Bulls remained composed and shut out the Stormers by playing in their territory and earning penalties.

The Stormers, in their first Super 14 final, did claim a second try with just two minutes remaining when sniping scrumhalf Enrico Januarie was stopped just short of the line, but Pieter Louw picked up the ball and scored.

The final was characterised by an air of exuberance with the southern hemisphere's premier provincial rugby tournament being decided in a football-crazy township famous for its part in the struggle against Apartheid.

The sense of sporting fever has only been exacerbated by South Africa hosting the Football World Cup from June 11.

Fanatical Bulls fans mingled happily with the black residents of Soweto, who opened their gardens to them for pre-game festivities.

South African president Jacob Zuma attended the final, which was played at the Orlando Stadium because Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria is being prepared for the World Cup.