Peter Grant kicked a 77th-minute penalty to finally separate South Africa’s north-south rivals as the Stormers edged the Bulls 20-17 in the Super 15 on Saturday.
Grant’s late shot, his only kick at goal in the game, finally held off a second-half surge from the Bulls, who came back from 14-0 down at the break to tie it at 17 with 13 minutes to go in a bone-crunching derby at Newlands.
Stormers hooker Tiaan Liebenberg’s try right on halftime and the boot of fullback Joe Pietersen put the home team in control, before second-half scores by flying wing Bjorn Basson and center Wynand Olivier brought the three-time champion Bulls level.
Grant ensured the Stormers remain the only perfect team in the southern hemisphere championship and they stay top of the South African conference and the overall tournament standings after six rounds with a 5-0 record.
South Africa’s biggest rugby rivalry was bad-tempered at times and played with a pulsating intensity throughout as the Stormers made home advantage count over their strong-finishing Pretoria-based visitors.
The Stormers stay unbeaten, although Allister Coetzee’s team are still to play away from South Africa, while the Bulls are 3-2 and fifth overall. They have also played all their games in their home country.
The Stormers found enough composure to cling on under a relentless physical charge by the Bulls, who scored 10 unanswered points at the start of the second half, while down to 14 men after the sin-binning of lock Flip van der Merwe.
Grant lined up his one kick to win it after a contentious call at a scrum by referee Craig Joubert, who had his hands full throughout as the Springbok-laden teams hammered each other for 80 minutes.
The Stormers survived off crumbs of possession — and their stubborn defense — for much of the first half as Pietersen built a 9-0 lead with successful kicks in the 12th, 27th and 35th minutes.
Bulls flyhalf Morne Steyn missed a 30th-minute shot and Liebenberg then gave the Stormers a 14-point lead when he bulldozed over in the 40th with help from some of his fellow forwards.
Liebenberg had been involved in off-the-ball scuffles as early as the second minute, while the Bulls were penalized for a number of -illegal tackles in the first 40.
Van der Merwe was binned early in the second for taking out opposite number Eben Etzebeth in the air at a lineout, but the Bulls responded with their best passage.
Bulls scrumhalf Francois Hougaard snapped up a loose pass with the Stormers backs threatening and hacked long downfield for fullback Zane Kirchner to chase and kick ahead. Speedster Basson eventually won the race to the line for a 70m breakaway try.
Steyn converted and landed his first penalty in the 51st as the inspired Bulls closed it to four points.
Pietersen temporarily settled the Stormers with a fourth penalty in the 62nd for 17-10, but Olivier’s try down the left touchline five minutes later leveled it with Steyn’s touchline conversion.
Lock Juandre Kruger was involved twice in the move, finally drawing two Stormers defenders to release Olivier as the Bulls outscored the Stormers 17-3 in the first 30 minutes of the second half.
A 70th-minute dropped goal attempt from Steyn that would have given the Bulls the lead for the first time fell just short, before the ice-cool Grant was on target at the end.