Sunday, May 31, 2009

How did the Bulls manage to give the Chiefs such a mighty beating?

Just three weeks ago the tournament poopers, the Cheetahs, threatened an upset against the Bulls; they were ahead 15-7 which the Bulls closed to 15-10 at the break. Does anyone remember that the Bulls only hit the lead in the last 12 minutes of that game? They snatched victory once again due to some handy opportunism courtesy of Brian Habana.

So how could a side who was almost pummeled by log losers outplay the Chiefs? Well, a few reasons. One, the Bulls stayed at home after their last bruising game against the Crusaders. Second, the Bulls live at high altitude. Any side that plays at Loftus Park in Pretoria can expect to run out of gas after 30 minutes in the field. The air at 1500m is thin. What the Bulls learnt from the Crusaders was to expect a ferocious opening spell from the Chiefs. The Bulls tactics would be to resist this period and if possible get their noses in front. After that any side would find clawing points whilst drowning in the thin blue air of Loftus a tall order. And that's what happened.

The Bulls pulled ahead to lead 34-7 by halftime, and incredibly extended their lead to a record thrashing 61-17, earning the Bulls their 2nd Super 17 title. Amazingly, the score could have been higher, 68-17, had Jaco Pretorius not fumbled the ball as he crossed the try line.

While it was an intense performance, the Bulls were the side with greater intensity, and greater determination. While the Chiefs demonstrated some powerful runs, and resisted some hard tackling, they seemed to have the air punched out of their sails early on as the Bulls closed down all the holes on the field, and ripped open their own. Habana was at his opportunistic best, Fourie du Preez played an inspiring game as usual, scoring two tries in 3 minutes, and Pierre Spies had a brilliant 300 metre dash to score with Habana waving frantically on his inside.

The game was effectively snatched from them in the first 17 minutes despite scoring first. The Bulls capitalised on three errors to score three tries and stun Mils Muliaina's side.

When Bryan Habana produced a trademark intercept try right on halftime for a 34-7 lead with the Chiefs drowning in a sea of blue.

To their credit the brave Chiefs were more effective in the second half but a final isn't the place to play catchup as they discovered in their first appearance in the title match.

The Bulls never wavered from the game plan that got them to the final, content to kick when they were in their own half and wait for counter-attacking chances off mistakes at the other end. They got more than enough to get by.

Morne Steyn slotted a drop kick, but not all his kicks went through the uprights. Wynand Olivier, who scored a beaut of a try, was man of the match. Akona Ndungane didn't see much ball and had a few unlucky touches. Victor Matfield scored a surprising try by climbing over a small ruck in the right hand corner and planting the ball with the rest of his huge body still in the air. Danie Rossouw also stormed in a try thanks to a clever pass from Captain Matfield.

The stadium had an electric atmosphere - packed to capacity with vocal Bulls supporters. One of the television announcers said, following Miss South Africa's praise for the Bulls, "I'd love to have her on my side." A minute later she ran into the picture and planted a kiss on his cheek. The announcer then stuttered a few questions to her, obviously thrown somewhat. A thrilling game and one all South Africans would have thoroughly enjoyed. Naas Botha said afterwards that it was probably one of the finest performances he'd seen from 15 men in a long time.

More: Chiefs offer no excuses, Matfield cites hard work in "the best two weeks of my life"

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