Running of the Bulls

2009-06-02 00:00

THE Bulls, if they can remember the lessons of a week ago and play with some ambition, will take their second Super 14 title in three years when they face the Chiefs in the final at Loftus this evening.

The experienced Bulls, playing at home, at altitude and against a backdrop of blue, have every advantage against the Chiefs who have had to trek for days to play in their first final at one of the most daunting venues in world rugby.

Of course, the Bulls were similarly placed last week when they faced a young Crusaders and were given the runaround in the first half by the New Zealanders. Their sudden ball-in-the-hand approach shortly before the break brought immediate reward, changing the mood and flow of the game before drop-kicking Morne Steyn added the finishing touches.

The Bulls, if they remain positive on attack by using runners like Pierre Spies, instead of simply relying on Steyn’s boot and the territory game to bring victory, should triumph though accuracy in attack and defence will still be critical. Even Bulls captain Victor Matfield, speaking after the semi-final, seemed surprised at just how effective his players were in attacking from broken play and South Africans will be hoping they will reproduce that form. Complementing the brawn of their pack with brains and some adventure, rather than just the boot, will surely carry the day.

Certainly the Bulls will be punished if they opt for a conservative approach against a strong attacking side and Steyn’s tactical kicking lacks accuracy. The Chiefs’ back three, led by fullback Mils Muliaina, thrive on the counter-attack and loose kicking down the middle of the field will play into eager hands. Indeed, it may pay the Bulls to play down the touchline — when they do kick — and back their excellent lineout, rather than play to the Chiefs’ strengths.

Sharks coach John Plumtree, who knows both teams well, says the Bulls will win if they balance their approach and play positively.

“The Bulls have world-class players in key areas, but they have to go out and play. Territory is important in finals, but they cannot just kick possession away against a New Zealand team who want to attack and know how to.”

Chiefs coach Ian Foster does not believe the altitude will be a problem, believing that fitness and the chance to make history will keep his players on the ball for 80 minutes.

“We haven’t really spoken about the altitude,” said Foster. “I think the occasion will negate that. We are a very fit team and I think we have shown a lot of ability with our bench which has done a fantastic job this whole campaign of lifting our levels over the last 20-30 minutes.

“Overall we back our fitness with six months of preparation and I don’t think we will run out of steam,” he said.

Foster said his players had prepared for this moment all season and “we are going to be ready.”

“We have been very focused throughout this campaign,” he said.

The Chiefs have succeeded this year because they have shown some variety with their forwards grinding out wins on occasions and the superb attacking skills of players like Lelia Masaga and strong support players carrying them to others.

It promises to be an intriguing final, a contest between the pace and attacking play of the Chiefs and the hard, basic, pressure rugby of the Bulls.

In Steyn, flourishing in his own backyard and with the ability to turn territory into points, the Bulls have a potential matchwinner, but they will surely have to offer more than a brawny, bruising pack, backed by a pair of kicking halfbacks, to provide the Loftus crowd with the victory they expect.

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