The Blue Bulls squashed any remaining doubts about their status as South Africa's premier side with a 36-24 victory over the Free State Cheetahs at Loftus on Saturday.
The final lived up to expectation, with plenty of drama and action.
The Free Stste Cheetahs signalled their intentions early with some wonderful running. However the Bulls absorbed the pressure and Pierre Spies initiated a breakout after reclaiming a high kick. Derick Kuun was brought down inches short on the left hand side and the Bulls were awarded the penalty. Fourie du Preez it quickly and executed a wonderful cross kick to put Francois Hougaard in the right hand side.
It signalled the pattern for the first 25 minutes of the match as the Cheetahs attacked relentlessly. They had the majority of territory and possession, but the Blue Bulls defence was up to the task. The Cheetahs seemed to make easy metres every time they went wide, the Bulls not rushing up in defence, but happy to let the Cheetahs run at them.
Whenever they got ball, Fourie du Preez orchestrated the attack beautifully and three opportunities to break out led to three wonderfully taken opportunities. With Morne Steyn in supreme form and able to land a 52m penalty, the Blue Bulls had a 24-0 lead after 25 minutes.
Jacques-Louis Potgieter had an easy penalty chance after six minutes but missed the kick. He blows way too hot and cold at this level, and the Cheetahs needed him to get the scoreboard ticking over. Coming back from 24-0 down was always going to be tough.
However, credit to the Cheetahs, for they certainly don't give up. Most sides who visit Loftus would succumb after a 24-0 lead. The Cheetahs stuck to their game plan, and scored two well worked tries to close the gap to 10 points.
The Bulls had good field position close to the end of the half and worked beautifully into mid-field to set up Morne Steyn for the drop-goal. It showed the difference between the sides. The Bulls' execution, especially under pressure is faultless.
In finals, it is all about building up pressure, and the Bulls know exactly what is required. Even Victor Matfield said after the match he doesn't have to say anything each time the opposition scores, his side knows exactly what it has to do.
If the Cheetahs could have started well after half-time, they could have worked their way back into the match, but once again the Blue Bulls started well and almost took the game away from the Cheetahs.
Transgressions allowed Morne Steyn to take the lead to 16 points, and in my view they were lucky not to earn a yellow card for repeated infringements at the breakdown.
The Bulls started to relax, and the Cheetahs were dominating the scrums. A poor clearance from a defensive scrum led to wonderful interplay between the Cheetahs forwards and a try that put them back into contention. With a quick drop-goal from Jacques-Louis Potgieter, the Cheetahs were suddenly only six points shy.
I thought the Bulls were desperately unlucky when Morne Steyn produced a brilliant chip and chase that resulted in a try to Jaco Pretorius. Not sure what ref Jonathan Kaplan ruled, but the try was not given, and Morne Steyn missed his only kick.
From here the Cheetahs kept transgressing due to the pressure, and the Bulls simply ground out the victory. Perhaps the Cheetahs may rue their game-plan to run everything, but it did seem to work for them.
The Blue Bulls on the other hand seemed content to handle whatever was thrown at them, and have so many strings to their bow that makes them difficult counter.
The Cheetahs used their scrum well to exert pressure on the Blue Bulls, I was surprised the Bulls didn't slow the game further and try to work more lineouts where they once again dominated.
Heinrich Brussow started to become a factor late in the second half, but he was overshadowed by his schoolmate Deon Stegmaan, who was well supported by Dewald Potgieter.
I thought the Bulls players did everything they had to, and the difference in class was evident, but for me their players have also looked slightly jaded after a long, long season. They can now celebrate this victory before their Boks leave for the end of year tour, and their remaining players get together to start preparing to defend their titles for next year!
The Bulls made history as they became the first South African side to achieve the Super 14 and Currie Cup double!
If there was ever any doubt, surely now the Bulls have laid to rest any doubt: They are the premier side in South Africa, and have been for the last seven years.
Naka Drotske even had to concede, "They’re the best in the world and they have the record to prove it. They’ve been involved in most Currie Cup finals since 2004 and now they’ve won two Super 14 titles and a Currie Cup. So, yes, they are the best in the world."
Balie Swart has been working as a scrumming consultant recently, and has coached in New Zealand and with the Sharks. He said "No other team with which I have been involved believes as much in hard work as the Bulls do."
That is the secret to the Bulls success, and one can see the development and effort all the players have made in the last few seasons.
They now leave a legacy, and as Frans Ludeke said after the game, "There was a piece missing from the puzzle and tonight we filled that piece. We wanted to leave a legacy and now we’ve achieved that. Credit must go to this special group of players. They showed their character in the semi-final, and they were excellent this evening. They’ve worked hard to get where they are and they’ve reaped the rewards of that hard work."
It's fantastic to hear Bulls Captain Victor Matfield say that their success this year won't mean anything unless they back it up again next year. It's this attitude they will keep the Bulls at the top next year and beyond!
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