The DHL Stormers held on with everything they had – at the end of a dominant second half display – to snatch a narrow 18-13 victory against the Vodacom Bulls in the inaugural Vodacom United Rugby Championship final at the DHL Stadium in Cape Town on Saturday night as they outscored the visitors from Pretoria by two tries to one.
It was a battle of inches as both sides threw everything at one another, trying to use their powerful forward packs and exciting backs to gain authority on a cold and wet night in the Mother City, and with both teams delivering tenacious efforts, it proved to be an epic encounter.
The only points scored in the first half were an early try by Vodacom Bulls centre Harold Vorster, converted by flyhalf Chris Smith, while the hosts only managed a late penalty goal by flyhalf Manie Libbok, which saw the visitors enter the break 7-3 ahead.
The second half was an equally tight scramble, but two tries by the DHL Stormers No 8 Evan Roos and replacement hooker Andre-Hugo Venter, with a conversion by Libbok, was enough to give them an edge over the Vodacom Bulls who were limited to two penalty goals by Smith, earning the Capetonians the tournament crown.
With both teams showing their desperation to clinch the prestigious title, the match was riddled by penalties and errors at crucial times, however, this did not dampen their spirits as they fought until the final minute. The breakdowns, in particular, proved to be a tight scramble and a key source of penalties.
The Vodacom Bulls put the first points on the board in the third minute as Johan Grobbelaar (hooker) made a great break and then a well-timed pass to Vorster, who forced his way through the defence to crash over the tryline.
Both teams tried to make their presence felt as the half progressed, and the DHL Stormers finally had a strong opportunity to earn their first points in the 33rd minute, but Libbok’s attempt at the goal posts went wayward.
The Capetonians continued to fight until the halftime whistle, and they were within striking range of the try line in the dying minutes of the half, but their attempt was unsuccessful, and they were forced to settle for a penalty goal by Libbok, which saw them trail by 7-3 at the break.
Smith pushed the Vodacom Bulls score into double figures in the 42nd minute with a penalty goal, but this was short-lived as Roos forced his way through to the tryline to touch down two minutes later, and Libbok’s conversion leveled the scores at 10-10.
The visitors were dealt a massive blow in the 52nd minute as Cornal Hendriks received a yellow card for dangerous tackle on the DHL Stormers’ Ruhan Nel (centre), and this saw them being reduced to 14 men.
The home side took full advantage of this with Venter diving over from a rolling maul as a result of the penalty, to push the DHL Stormers 15-10 up.
Smith kicked a penalty goal in the 64th minute to reduce their deficit, but Libbok slotted a clever drop goal with six minutes to play, which saw the home side take an 18-13 lead, and they managed to hold out the visitors to snatch the tournament victory.
DHL Stormers 18 (3) – Tries: Evan Roos, Andre-Hugo Venter. Conversion: Manie Libbok. Penalty goal: Libbok. Drop goal: Libbok.
Vodacom Bulls 13 (7) – Try: Harold Vorster. Conversion: Chris Smith. Penalty goals: Smith (2).