A magnificent performance by the Bulls saw them break the stranglehold of Leinster on the Celtic league as they stunned the European powerhouses 27-26 in their United Rugby Championship semifinal in Dublin on Friday night.
For the first time since 2017, Leinster’s usually bulging trophy cabinet will be empty and it will be the Bulls who advance to the URC final following a display for the ages in which they showed massive physicality and some marvellous attacking touches.
Having spent the week talking about how much they admire Leinster, who won the URC’s predecessor, the Pro14 for the last four years, the Bulls showed they were up for a fight from the start with mighty defence keeping Leinster out for 11 phases on their tryline.
Leinster did take the early lead through hooker Dan Sheehan’s try after a Ross Byrne grubber through caused chaos, and the Bulls struggled initially against some marginal refereeing calls that went the way of the home side.
But hooker Johan Grobbelaar’s masterful work at the breakdowns and eighthman Elrigh Louw’s massive carries sparked the Bulls and in 10 magical minutes in the second quarter they scored two tries to take a grip on the game.
Following a Grobbelaar turnover, Louw put in two great runs to put the Bulls on the front foot. The chance seemed wasted when fullback Canan Moodie, who had looked dangerous with ball-in-hand, tried to dot down with one hand and dropped the ball. Fortunately the Bulls had advantage and the tap-and-go penalty brought a marvellous moment of deception as Louw carried but then flipped the ball to Grobbelaar running the other way and he forced himself over for the try.
Then the Bulls attacked from deep through Moodie and Vorster, winning a ruck penalty. Chris Smit put the ball in the corner, Louw charged off the back of the lineout, and then made a strong carry from a ruck, before Marcell Coetzee went over for the try.
Leinster were down 7-17 but fought back through a try by midfield maestro Robbie Henshaw to trail 14-17 at halftime.
A terrible, decisive blow
The pressure only mounted on the home side as the Bulls dominated the opening exchanges of the second half, only some streetwise tactics at the ruck preventing a try being scored. Leinster cleared their lines but conceded a scrum penalty. It had been the one area of the game where the Bulls had previously suffered much misfortune.
What followed was a terrible, decisive blow against Leinster. A massive rolling maul thundered to their line from 25 metres out, the referee going straight to a penalty try and yellow-carding lock and captain James Ryan.
The Bulls led 24-14 and then withstood fierce pressure from Leinster in their 22, stealing a couple of crunch lineouts five metres from their line.
Leinster did score a long-range try, wing Rory O’Laughlin rounding off a Jordan Larmour break, but veterans Morne Steyn, with a penalty, and Bismarck du Plessis, with a key turnover, sealed a shock defeat for the hosts, who scored in the 83rd minute to make the scoreline more flattering.
Leinster – Tries: Dan Sheehan, Robbie Henshaw, Rory O’Laughlin, Cian Healy. Conversions: Ross Byrne (2), Johnny Sexton.
Bulls – Tries: Johan Grobbelaar, Marcell Coetzee, penalty try. Conversions: Chris Smith (2). Penalties: Smith, Morne Steyn.