Bulls thrash Chiefs to win Super 14 title
BY DUNCAN JOHNSTONE IN SOUTH AFRICA
The Bulls trampled the Chiefs in embarrassing fashion in Pretoria, ruthlessly charging to their second Super 14 title in record fashion this morning (NZ time).
Some deadly finishing and the booming boot of Morne Steyn saw off an error-prone Chiefs side 61-17 at Loftus Versfeld.
Their eight tries to two win produced the highest winning score and margin in a final and added to their 2007 title, signalling that they are indeed the Super force at the moment, particularly at home where they haven't been beaten this year.
The air of inevitability that engulfed the city in the leadup to the title match turned into reality. And sadly it all happened very quickly for the Chiefs.
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.
The Chiefs had an early setback when powerful hooker Aled de Malmanche was taken out of the game with a whiplash tackle and they really struggled for go-forward ball. But it was a night when little went right.
When they did get something going their attackers were often isolated
They were also guilty of putting their high kicks too deep for their chasers to pressure the Bulls and it was a constant struggle to try to get the field position needed to get back into the match.
The Chiefs' scrum held but their lineout was under constant pressure.
Big prop Sona Taumalolo had an energetic game, Mils Muliaina popped up everywhere trying to save his side and Lelia Masaga ran hard at every opportunity in a night to forget for the Chiefs.
This was the Bull's moment and didn't the 50,000 in attendance know it - and show it.
Steyn and fullback Zane Kirchner look likely to have played their way into the Boks on the back of their finals form and it wouldn't surprise to see young loose forwards Dewald Potgieter and Deon Stegmann pushing hard for inclusion too.
But it was an old hand in halfback Fourie du Preez who was at the heart of this effort, featuring in the first three tries, including scoring two of them himself.
The Bulls defence was impressive, both the patterned variety and some desperate moments too as they killed off a couple of Chiefs attacks in the middle of the first spell.
Referee Jonathan Kaplan was ruthless on the Chiefs in the tackle areas and subsequent rucks but they were their own worst enemies in more areas than that.
The Chiefs got the start they wanted with Stephen Donald counterattacking off a high ball, getting past Kirchner on the blindside at halfway and setting up Masaga for the dash to the posts.
But the Bulls hit back immediately, attacking strongly to the goalposts where the Chiefs were penalised in a desperate ruck. du Preez took a quick tap and powered over from five metres.
Disaster struck the Chiefs when they were counterattacking and Wynanad Olivier scragged de Malmanche heavily to the ground, the ball spilled loose and du Preez was set free to run to the corner for his second try within three minutes. Steyn's conversion gave the Bulls a 14-7 lead after 13 minutes in a frenzied start to the match.
The Chiefs paid for a mistake soon after when Tanerau Latimer was isolated on attack and from the turnover the ball went all the way left du Preez to slip a chip kick through for Bryan Habana to collect and score in the other corner.
The Chiefs had two chances to get back into the match off Richard Kahui breaks but the desperate Bulls snuffed them out.
Back the Bulls went to the other end and Steyn slammed over the inevitable dropped goal.
Sione Lauaki rode his luck with a cynical foul on du Preez right in front of the Chiefs' posts and Steyn happily turned it into three more points.
The Chiefs managed to put their best period together then but were killed off right on halftime when another attack went haywire, Kahui pooping up a pass 40m out and Habana intercepting to streak away unopposed. With Steyn's conversion the Bulls were out to 34-7 at the break.
The Chiefs had to hit back immediately after the restart to have any chance and their determination showed. The tight forwards got a bit of grunt into their work around the rucks and when they got into the right area of the park Donald attacked the Bulls' defensive line and his half break was enough to feed a flying Muliaina for the try.
James McGougan's ill-discipline stalled the momentum when he conceded an unnecessary penalty and Steyn's unerring boot stamped its mark again.
Donald cancelled that out soon after as the Chiefs re-energised game paid dividends.
But Bulls skipper Victor Matfield summed up the effort of his side when he dived right over the top of a ruck to score in the corner at the end of the third quarter.
Bulls centre Jaco Pretorius dropped the ball trying to place it for the a try soon after as a party atmosphere engulfed the stadium.
Oliver made no mistake as he crossed in the same place.
It wasn't over though - Pierre Spies intercepted 70m out and he showed the same speed he displayed in the semifinal to sprint away for the try that took the score past 50.
Replacement forward Dannie Rossouw completed the embarrassment for the Chiefs one minute from the end.
Bulls 61: Fourie du Preez 2, Bryan Habana 2, Victor Matfield, Wynand Olivier, Pierre Spies, Dannie Rossouw tries; Morne Steyn 5 con, 2 pen, dg; Burton Francis con.
Chiefs 17: Lelia Masaga, Mils Muliaina tries; Stephen Donald 2 con, pen.
Who was the best-performed All Blacks forward on the northern tour?