1 June 2009
The Bulls were scintillating at Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria on Saturday evening as they clinched their second Super 14 rugby title in three seasons after over-running New Zealand’s Chiefs 61-17 in a record-setting performance.
Their 61 points was the highest ever in a Super rugby final, and the Bulls’ winning margin of 44 points was also a new record, bettering the Brumbies’ 30-point victory over the Sharks in 2001, when the Australians won 36-6.
The victory by Frans Ludick’s charges suggests that South African rugby is in exceptional health. After all, the victory has left South Africa with the Super 14 title, their first ever IRB Sevens World Series overall title after the country clinched it in Edinburgh on the weekend, and the Rugby World Cup, won in France in 2007.
Loftus was electric and packed as the teams kicked off. The noise was cacophonous, but it was abruptly deadened in the seventh minute when the Chiefs took the lead.
Fullback Zane Kirchner, after fielding a high-up-and-under, responded with a Garry Owen of his own. Stephen Donald fielded it and neatly rounded the chasing Kirchner.
Finding space down the right hand touchline, he made good ground before passing inside to winger Lelia Masaga. Bulls’ skipper Victor Matfield appeared to have him covered, but Masaga skipped out of Matfield’s attempted tackle and raced through to touch down and open the scoring.
Donald knocked over the conversion to put the New Zealanders 7-0 in front as the fanatical home crowd sat stunned.
Du Preez’s reply
Two minutes later, however, they were back in full voice thanks to scrumhalf Fourie du Preez. After Kirchner had made good ground, a free kick was given against the Chiefs not far from their tryline. Du Preez, seeing an opportunity, took a quick tap and forced his way over the tryline to pull his side back into the contest almost immediately.
Morne Steyn slotted the easy conversion to level the scores.
Three minutes on, it was Du Preez who again made things happen for the home side. A heavy tackle by Wynand Olivier on Chiefs’ hooker Aled de Malmanche led to a turnover and there was Du Preez steaming up at pace to take the pass from Steyn and beat Mils Muliaina to the corner for a try from 45 metres out.
Steyn’s conversion attempt from the sideline was pinpoint accurate and the Bulls moved into a 14-7 lead.
Only four minutes later it was Du Preez, once more, who created the Bulls’ third try. Deon Stegmann forced a turnover and the ball was moved to the left. Matfield fed Du Preez, who had Bryan Habana outside of him. Seeing the speedy winger tightly covered, he stabbed through a beautifully-weighted grubber and Habana ran onto it, gathered, and sprinted away for a try in the left-hand corner.
The superb Steyn, who has improved immensely this season and looks like a Springbok through and through, added the extras with another superb kick.
Steyn then increased the Bulls’ lead with a sweetly-struck drop goal to take his tally for the season to 11, a record in Super rugby.
Trailing 27-7, the Chiefs knew they had to score some tries to get back into the match. Yet, despite winning some good ball, they were unable to make much headway against the Bulls’ excellent defence.
The South African side was rewarded for its defensive discipline a minute from half-time when Habana intercepted a pass and ran through unchallenged from 60 metres out.
Steyn slotted the simple conversion and the Bulls, incredibly, led 34-7 at half-time.
The Chiefs, in a 36-29 win over the Lions in April, had fought their way back from a 29-10 deficit to win and it seemed that they had a chance of emulating that feat when they scored first in the second half.
Chiefs hit back
After winning a turnover, the Chiefs moved the ball left where they had a healthy line-up of players. Flyhalf Donald, however, passed back inside for Muliaina and the fullback skipped out of a tackle before racing through to score next to the posts. A successful conversion attempt by Donald reduced the deficit to 37-14.
Steyn replied with a penalty for the Bulls, but Donald hit back for the Chiefs with a penalty in response.
It didn’t take long for the Bulls to eliminate any thoughts that the Chiefs might stage a memorable comeback.
A sweeping move down the right saw first Kirchner and then Akona Ndungane stopped just short of the line. Steyn moved in behind the ruck, ready to feed the ball to the backline. Captain Matfield, though, snatched it up and dived over the top of the ruck to score.
Steyn’s kick from the sideline hit an upright, leaving the Bulls 42-17 ahead.
Centre Jaco Pretorius should have put the home team further ahead when Olivier went through a half-gap and laid on the ball for Pretorius, who caught it without a problem, but then let it slip out of his right hand as he bent to force it down.
Olivier, who had missed the semi-final with a hip injury, was in fantastic form and sliced through the Chiefs’ defence again, but Akona Ndungane knocked on. Olivier, though, made sure the Bulls would score again himself when, off fast ball from a ruck, he beat a defender on the outside and crashed over the tryline for yet another Bulls’ five-pointer.
The Chiefs tried to find a reply, but their desperation was punished when a loose pass was intercepted by eighthman Pierre Spies, who put on the afterburners to score from 75 metres out. A successful conversion made the score 54-17.
The Bulls had by this time sent all of their reserves on to the field, with the match long ago won, but still there was no relief for the Chiefs.
Danie Rossouw completed the scoring after taking a pass from a free kick and rounding a defender before powering over for the Bulls’ eighth try.
Burton Francis kicked the conversion and the Bulls had scored an unbelievable 61-17 victory. Loftus, Pretoria, and many rugby fans throughout South Africa celebrated.
Fourie du Preez, for his inspirational play when the Bulls needed it most, was probably the pick of the players, but a number of other Bulls made massive contributions. Unheralded flank Dewald Potgieter was outstanding, as was the Springbok lock pairing of Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha.
At the back, Morne Steyn delivered another assured performance at flyhalf, while Wynand Olivier rounded off an excellent Super 14 season with another brilliant performance, and Zane Kirchner proved unflappable at fullback on a massive stage.
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