Bulls are ‘the best in the world’

2009-11-02 00:00

NAKA Drotske paid generous tribute to the Blue Bulls after their 36-24 win in the Currie Cup final at Loftus on Saturday, but the Free State coach will know that his team had their chances to take the title.

After a frenetic, absorbing final, the Bulls added the Currie Cup title to their Super 14 triumph for the first double by a South African team.

Drotske said later that the Bulls were the best provincial side in world rugby.

“They have the record to prove it,” he added.

But he was left ruing what might have been.

The Cheetahs took to the field wearing “The Greats Comeback” label after their heroics in this year’s Currie Cup. And again, they fought back from what seemed an impossible position in a helter-skelter second-half before hitting the self-destruct button in the final quarter.

The Cheetahs played all the rugby in the opening quarter, dominating possession and seeking to sweep the ball wide as often as possible. But not only was the Bulls defence resolute in denying the Free Staters, but their pedigree and their ruthlessness showed in a rush of points against the run of play.

And, unsurprisingly, it was the rugby nous of the superb Fourie du Preez, the pace of Bryan Habana and the kicking of Morne Steyn which took the Bulls into a 24-0 lead after 25 minutes.

The Cheetahs, to their credit, struck back with two tries of their own before the break and a third early in the second half as their scrum started to dominate, forcing a turnover for lock Nico Breedt to score.

They were just six points adrift (30-24), their forwards had them on the front-foot, they were finding space for their backs and, briefly, they appeared the more likely winners.

But the turning point came when they were strongly on attack and flyhalf Jacques-Louis Potgieter, who blew hot and cold all evening, booted the ball dead from an excellent attacking position. The Bulls immediately grabbed the initiative as the Free Staters lost their discipline and gave away a series of penalties under pressure, which Steyn, inevitably, goaled to take his team 12 points clear. The Cheetahs’ problems were compounded in the closing minutes when replacement hooker Richardt Strauss was yellow-carded for backchat — and this time there was no way back.

The Bulls had their usual heroes, the sublime Du Preez, wing Habana, who was playing his last game before moving to Cape Town, Steyn and Victor Matfield, who gave his team the expected edge in the lineouts.

But it was at the breakdown that the Bulls, led by flank Deon Stegmann, surprised the Free Staters and turned over possession on half-a-dozen occasions.

While Cheetahs flank Brussow was, by way of a change, matched at the breakdown, he excelled in general play where hooker Adriaan Strauss, fellow-loose forward Frans Viljoen and centre Meyer Bosman were also prominent.

“You can’t give a side like the Bulls a 24-0 lead, especially not at Loftus,” Drotske said later, adding that he could not work out why his players only started performing when they were chasing the game.

“I can’t explain that, and if I could it wouldn’t be happening as often as it does, but I’m proud of the character they showed. To be honest, we let in a couple of soft tries at the start which cost us.”

He said that the breakdown had been decisive.

“We lost six or seven breakdowns. That’s a lot in a final and if you’re wanting to succeed you just can’t lose that many,” he explained. “The Bulls were very good there, and committed a lot of players to the rucks and we didn’t handle that well.”

Bulls captain Victor Matfield paid tribute to coach Frans Ludeke who has often been heavily criticised by the Pretoria media since taking over from Heyneke Meyer.

“He took over here in a difficult situation and we’re extremely proud of him and what he’s achieved. This win is as much about his contribution as it is about the players.”

Matfield said that the Bulls’ experience had taken them to their win.

“The Cheetahs showed character to come back at us in the second half, but we carried on fighting. There are so many experienced players and leaders in this team. They knew what to do, how to react without me having to say anything.”

Ludeke said his players deserved their triumph.

“Credit must go to this special group of players. They showed their character in the semi-final, and they were excellent again in the final.

“We wanted to leave a legacy (with the Super 14 and the Currie Cup titles) and there was one piece missing.

“And now we’ve completed the puzzle.”

Scorers:

Blue Bulls — Tries: Bryan Habana (2), Francois Hougaard; Conversions: Morne Steyn (3); Penalties : Steyn (4); Drop goal: Steyn.

Free State Cheetahs — Tries: Frans Viljoen, Corne Uys, Nico Breedt; Conversions: Jacques-Louis Potgieter (3); Drop goal: Potgieter.

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