Five capped Springboks combined to score all the Bulls’ tries as the log-leaders beat Western Province at Loftus Versfeld on Friday to secure home advantage in the Currie Cup final.
It was once considered the blue-ribbon fixture of the domestic rugby scene, but this match between the bitter rivals of the South African game had converted from a cordon-bleu clash to bush-league encounter as the hosts outscored the visitors five tries to three to quite comfortably seal a 48-31 victory.
The Bulls were in control of this match from start to finish and they played champagne rugby for the most part. There were moments when their defence lapsed, and when their forwards conceded breakdown penalties. But the accuracy and precision of their attack was on point and, overall, they showed the necessary composure to deny WP and advance to the tournament decider.
The Bulls’ determination to play the game at pace from the outset yielded immediate results. After getting his team on the board with well-struck penalty, flyhalf Johan Goosen set up the opening try with a beautifully floated pass out wide to Cornal Hendricks to score unopposed. Three minutes later, Goosen darted over for the second try after a series of offloads carved open the Province defence. And next to score was Arno Botha from close quarters to secure a 24-5 lead after just 15 minutes.
While the dedication to contest was there, Western Province continued to lose the collisions, either conceding possession or conceding penalties. The Bulls forwards feasted on the momentum, laying the perfect platform for their backs to flourish.
Running through the heart of WP’s fragile defence at will, the Bulls’ fourth and fifth tries came via Lionel Mapoe and Marcell Coetzee. Hacjivah Dayimani pulled one back for the visitors but, trailing by 26 points, the visitors looked dead and buried.
WP needed to stem the tide and hit back first after the break and they did so when Edwill van der Merwe got on the end of a great offload from Sergeal Petersen to go over for his second try of the game. That early try set the pace for the remainder of the third quarter as Province finally built up a head of steam at the same time as the Bulls lost some momentum.
Challenged with erasing a large deficit, Province turned down two kickable penalties in favour of 5m scrums and on both occasions their efforts were fruitless. First they sent the ball wide to Van der Merwe, who did well to bust his way through a double tackle and place the ball, but he was controversially judged to have lost control of the ball.
On the second occasion, Province did well to secure the ball at the scrum, but a speculative pass to Neethling Fouche resulted in a knock-on close to the tryline. The Bulls won a penalty from the subsequent scrum, allowing them to exit the danger zone with relative ease.
The Bulls then found their second wind and WP were made to pay for their inability to turn opportunities into points. Hendricks grabbed his second five-pointer of the game after latching onto an inside pass.
There was a late flourish from Province, with two late tries, including one from Van der Merwe to complete his hat-trick. But it merely served to put some respectability to the scoreboard, because the game had already been decided by then.