The Vodacom Bulls overpowered Leinster in Dublin on Friday night to eliminate the defending champions and advance to the Vodacom United Rugby Championship final.
The Bulls were tenacious and courageous as the pack took the game to Leinster and challenged them to live with the physical assault. It proved to be a challenge the hosts could not meet head on as the Bulls forwards dominated the physical exchanges and the backs worked relentlessly to mop up in recording a first victory for a South African URC side in Ireland.
No 8 Elrigh Louw was immense throughout, and lock Ruan Nortje and hooker Johan Grobbelaar were as influential in the set piece and collisions as Jake White’s charges triumphed 27-26 at the RDS Arena. They now await the winners of the second semi-final, between the Stormers and Ulster in Cape Town on Saturday.
The Bulls repelled 11 phases of pressure from the hosts inside the first three minutes before the pressure took its toll and hooker Dan Sheehan did well to pounce on a grubber kick behind the defence from flyhalf Ross Byrne, who added the extras.
Bulls flyhalf Chris Smith opened the visitors’ account with three points from the kicking tee, and the South Africans thought they had their first try through Canan Moodie after a sustained period of power running and pick and drives.
The 19-year-old fullback’s five-pointer was ruled out after a TMO referral, as he botched what should’ve been a regulation touchdown, but man-of-the-match Grobbelaar made no mistake when he barged over moments later.
At the start of the second quarter, Smith was on song to give the Bulls the lead for the first time in the game, and the visitors increased their advantage by a converted try four minutes later when skipper Marcell Coetzee soared over under the uprights.
The Irish looked more than a little shell-shocked before centre Robbie Henshaw showed good awareness to open Leinster’s try tally with less than 10 minutes to go in the half.
Byrne struck coolly from the tee for the hosts to narrow the gap on the scoreboard to three points, yet as the rain poured the South Africans kept the Irish at bay until the half-time whistle.
The Bulls gained the ascendancy after the break courtesy of a penalty try – referee Andrea Piardi penalising Leinster for collapsing a rampant, rolling maul before sending captain James Ryan to the naughty chair.
The visitors absorbed wave after attacking wave from the Irish but the dam wall finally broke when left winger Rory O’Loughlin crossed in the corner with 10 minutes left on the clock. Johnny Sexton had joined from the bench but the Ireland flyhalf failed in trying to add what later proved to be two decisive points.
Veteran pivot Morne Steyn then struck a crucial penalty five minutes before full time, and fellow replacement Bismarck du Plessis made a vital turnover inside the Bulls half as Cian Healy’s injury-time try proved to be too little, too late to deny the men from Pretoria a famous win in the Irish capital.
— SA Rugby magazine (@SARugbymag) June 10, 2022