In the first part of a segment from the latest SA Rugby magazine, WADE PRETORIUS looks back at a selection of iconic moments from the competition’s 25-year history.
SETTING THE STANDARD
The first season of Super 12 in 1996 saw the Auckland Blues defeat the Natal Sharks 45-21 at Eden Park. If ever there was a spectacle, this was it as the home side powered home with Sean Fitzpatrick, Carlos Spencer and Jonah Lomu to the fore while tries from the late James Small and Andre Joubert were not enough.
ONLY ONE CHRISTIAN CULLEN
The ‘Paekakariki Express’ ended his franchise career with 56 tries from 85 games and while there may be more well-rounded fullbacks, none captured the attacking imagination like the Wellington weaver. His 97-metre mazy run against the Waratahs in ’96 still stands out as one of the competition’s best.
The Canterbury side notched up their first title in 1998 and soon found themselves on the fast-track to greatness as they went on to claim three championships in a row under coach Robbie Deans.
It may have been during the 2000 edition but who could forget the sight of Stormers centre Robbie Fleck’s face after Deon Kayser reeled him in and tackled him over the line, causing a knock-on? ‘I’d always prided myself on never giving up,’ said Kayser. ‘There were many instances before that day when I’d chased in vain. That day was one of those lucky ones when all those other fruitless efforts finally paid dividends’. The Sharks lost on that occasion but a folk legend was born.
If ever there was a debut to remember, it was back in 1997 when fullback Gavin Lawless turned out for the Sharks against the Highlanders. The hosts thumped the Kiwi side 75-43 with their new star provided four tries in a match haul of 50 points. A tally that has stood the test of time with another Shark, Rob du Preez, going close in 2018 when he scored 38 against the Blues.
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If Cullen was the attacking fullback everyone wanted to be then Carlos Spencer was the epitome of what a gung-ho flyhalf should be. There was nothing he didn’t dare to do on the field including sparking (and then finishing) a 100m try against the Crusaders in 2004, despite his side leading by two points with less than a minute to play.
REDS RUN OVER
Australian sides have long-feared playing at Loftus Versfeld but no side will have more scar tissue than the Reds outfit of 2007. They arrived to face a Bulls side that needed a 72-point win for a home semi-final and much to the delight of the crowd they achieved that and then some. A resounding 92-3 win – the largest winning margin to date – on the back of 13 tries set them on track for their first championship win.
BRAAM’S MAD DASH
In a move that did not sit well in Auckland, Stormers flyhalf Braam van Straaten scored one of rugby’s sneakiest tries at Newlands in 1999. After recovering a knock, he did not indicate he would be kicking for poles from the resulting penalty and tapped the ball before making a bee-line for the try line.
STOP AND DROP
If any player was going to hold the record for most drop goals it would be Bulls kingpin Morne Steyn. The Pretoria franchise mixed attacking rugby with percentage plays in the appropriate proportions as they secured three championship wins in four years. In the process, Steyn kicked four drop goals during the ’09 season to secure a place in the history books to go with his most individual points (263) from the 2010 campaign.
A try that continues to haunt Sharks fans as the Bulls wing broke their hearts at the death – the 83rd minute to be precise – by creating a gaping hole in the hosts’ defence before diving over to complete one of the most iconic victories in the country’s history.
DAMNED BE DEFENCE
The 2010 contest between the Chiefs and the Lions remains the highest scoring match and it’ll take some beating after the home side won 72-65. Sure, it wasn’t one for the purists but the fans sat back and enjoyed 18 tries in 80 minutes. Next best? The ‘97 win by the Sharks when they thrashed the Highlanders 75-43 in another particularly adventurous outing.
The golden era of Bulls rugby was officially born as they claimed their second championship win in 2009 after a year break. A team packed with Springboks – Morne Steyn, Fourie du Preez, Bakkies Botha, Pierre Spies and captain Victor Matfield – were simply in a league of their own and certainly too much for their final opposition, the Chiefs. The home side walloped the visitors 61-17 with Bryan Habana and Du Preez bagging a brace each.
*The full feature is available in our April of SA Rugby magazine, which is now on sale. During this period of lockdown, we hope you are able to get your hands on the latest copy, but we will continue to bring you the best possible content. You can also subscribe here