Bulls 36-23 Crusaders, Super 14 Semi-Final
Powerful Bulls book Super 14 final spot
May 23, 2009
Adam Whitelock scored the opening try for the Crusaders, but his efforts were in vain
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The Bulls stormed into their second Super 14 final after a comprehensive 36-23 victory over reigning champions Crusaders at Loftus Versfeld. Frans Ludeke's side will now take on the Chiefs next weekend for the southern hemisphere's top prize.
The visitors stormed in to a 20-7 lead in the first-half thanks to tries from Adam Whitelock and Kieran Read, only for the Bulls to score 20 points in the final eight minutes of the opening period to take control of the tie. They scored superb tries through wingers Bryan Habana and Akona Ndungane, with No.8 Pierre Spies scoring an explosive third and fly-half Morne Steyn landing two drop-goals, before adding a further pair to take his side out of sight late in the game.
The Crusaders started the game well in the face of overwhelming home support for the Bulls, Colin Slade and Read combining to create an opportunity down the blindside before a try-saving intervention from Victor Matfield.
The New Zealanders also claimed the upper-hand in the scrum and won an early penalty after some heavy pressure close to the Bulls line. Stephen Brett confidently slotted the kick for a deserved early lead. Their early pressure was matched by the Bulls over the next ten minutes of the first-half, and after Leon MacDonald had seen a kick charged down the Bulls struck. Arch-poacher Habana spotted Brad Thorn out of position in defence and attacked the gap, his searing pace taking him clear to score under the posts.
Their celebrations were cut short by Crusaders wing Adam Whitelock, who was on the end of some superb handling to crash over in the corner. The try was awarded by the TMO, and MacDonald was on hand with a superb touchline conversion. He nudged his side further ahead with a penalty soon after when Derick Kuun was penalised for offside before Read scored their second try. A hanging Garryowen from Brett put Ndungane under huge pressure in the shadow of his posts, Read using his extra height to claim the ball and bundle over to put his side in absolute control.
Read's try sparked the Bulls in to life, their intensity levels rising as the capacity crowd roared them on. Some crisp handling and great pace saw Ndungane atone for his mistake with a well taken try before the Crusaders were reduced to 14 men with Thomas Waldrom sent to the sin bin for cynical play at the ruck. Steyn added a pair of drop-goals before Spies capped a stunning ten minutes for the home side by punishing a loose kick and bursting through the Crusaders ranks to score his side's third try.
The drop-goal deluge continued when Crusaders scrum-half Andy Ellis slotted a superb effort shortly after half-time, his side grinding down the Bulls in an increasingly confrontational game. Jaco Pretorius thought that he has scored the Bulls' fourth try but was called back for a forward pass before another telling burst from Spies looked to have set up the Bulls again only for Habana to lose the ball forward.
The Bulls kept the Crusaders at arm's length throughout the second period, with Steyn's kicking game and an excellent performance from scrum-half Fourie du Preez. The Crusaders tackled manfully as the game wore on but their early exertions appeared to have taken too much out of them to deal with a heavyweight Bulls pack.
With the scoreboard remaining against them they could not find a way to set up field position, and Steyn duly continued his excellent afternoon with the boot by landing a long-range penalty and swiftly added his third drop-goal to give the Bulls a ten-point lead going in to the final ten minutes.
With the Crusaders looking down and out in the high-altitude surroundings Steyn added a fourth drop-goal from the half-way line to spark celebrations inside Loftus and potentially ink his name in to Peter de Villiers' Springbok squad.
Bulls: Zane Kirchner; Akona Ndungane, Jaco Pretorius, Marius Delport, Bryan Habana; Morné Steyn, Fourie du Preez; Pierre Spies, Dewald Potgieter, Deon Stegmann, Victor Matfield (capt), Bakkies Botha, Werner Kruger, Derick Kuün, Gurthrö Steenkamp
Replacements: Chiliboy Ralepelle, Rayno Gerber, Danie Rossouw, Pedrie Wannenburg, Heini Adams, Burton Francis, Gerhard van den Heever
Crusaders: Leon MacDonald, Jared Payne, Tim Bateman, Ryan Crotty, Adam Whitelock, Stephen Brett, Andy Ellis/Kahn Fotuali'i, Thomas Waldrom, Richie McCaw (capt), Kieran Read, Isaac Ross, Brad Thorn/Michael Paterson, Owen Franks, Jason Macdonald, Wyatt Crockett
Replacements: Daniel Perrin, Ben Franks, Michael Paterson/Ross Filipo, George Whitelock, Kahn Fotuali'i/Tyson Keats, Colin Slade, Hamish Gard