VICTOR Matfield says his team’s narrow 27-26 win over the Sharks at King’s Park a fortnight ago was the decisive moment of the Bulls’ triumphant Super 14 season.
Matfield’s players soared to fresh heights in dumping the Chiefs 61-17 in the Super 14 final in front of 52 000 delirious supporters at Lofus on Saturday night for the Bulls’ second title win in three years.
The Bulls captain told reporters that the Durban win, and the advantage of playing the home semi-final and final at Loftus as a result, convinced his players they could win the title.
“That was the moment we knew we could do it,” Matfield said.
Matfield readily conceded that the altitude and long haul from Hamilton in New Zeaalnd had hurt the Chiefs.
“Yes, it had an effect on them,” Matfield said. “They had to travel something like 14 hours to play at altitude. That would affect any side. Playing at home was a massive advantage for us. I know this because I’ve experienced playing high pressure games away from home and it takes a special effort to win.”
The Chiefs refused to look beyond their own performance in explaining the mauling.
”We weren’t allowed to play by the Bulls,” captain Mils Muliaina said. “That was a world class performance and well done to them. They thoroughly deserved their win and title.”
It was not only at Loftus that the depth of talent in South African rugby was highlighted on Saturday. In Edinburgh, at much the same time, the Springbok sevens squad were sealing the world championship title while a couple of hours earlier, in Rustenburg, the Royal XV’s B section players were giving the British Lions an awful fright.
The early signs in the final were not encouraging for the Bulls as a speculative Zane Kirchner kick downfield allowed Chiefs flyhalf Stephen Donald to counter and one simple pass sent wing Lelia Masaga over for the opening try.
But that was as good as it got for the Chiefs as Bulls scrumhalf Fourie du Preez stamped his mark on the final, scoring two tries and making a third for Bryan Habana in the space of six minutes.
It was a dramatic period, and one which settled the match as the Chiefs also lost their most influential forward, the hard-driving hooker Aled de Malmanche, who was concussed by a heavy “swing” tackle by Wynand Olivier in the build-up to Du Preez’s second try.
With Morne Steyn kicking a drop and a penalty, and Habana intercepting for his second try, the Bulls were 27 points ahead at the break and the contest was over.
The Chiefs attempted to chase the game but overcoming committed opponents – lifted by their 52 000 Loftus crowd – the altitude and a massive deficit was a hopeless cause and the Bulls stretched away in the final quarter to win by 41 points.
It was a day when the Bulls’ plan came together beautifully. Their scrummaging was more effective than it has been in recent weeks, they nicked a half-dozen of the Chiefs’ lineouts and they were physical at the breakdown. Even the loss of loose forward Deon Stegmann to an ankle injury after the first quarter did not throw them and fellow-flank Dewald Potgieter was one of their stars of the show.
The Bulls won because of their ability to take points from almost every sortie into the Chiefs’ quarter while limiting damage with superb defence when the New Zealnders were threatening.
The Bulls, under the unsung Frans Ludeke, had timed their challenge to perfection, peaking at just the right time to beat the Sharks, Crusaders and Chiefs in the final three weeks to take the title.
It was the most deserved of victories, the proudest hour in the Bulls’ long rugby history.
SCORERS: Bulls 61 (tries – Fourie du Preez 2, Bryan Habana 2, Victor Matfield, Wynand Olivier, Pierre Spies, Danie Rossouw; conversions – Morne Steyn 5, Burton Francis; penalties – Steyn 2; drop goals – Steyn)
Chiefs 17 (tries – Lelia Masaga, Mils Muliaina; conversions – Stephen Donald 2; penalty Donald