The Bulls’ Vodacom Super 14 semi-final dream lay shattered on the Loftus Versfeld turf on Friday night.
The Bulls were given a rugby lesson by the Crusaders as they were hammered 35-17, but had trailed 35-3 at one stage. Only two late consolation tries gave the score-line some respectability.
The man at the forefront of the Saders stunning performance was flyhalf Dan Carter who apart from a few missed kicks at poles was at his silky best. He peppered the Bulls with well-timed line kicks and was as slippery as ever in getting over the gain line. He also managed five kicks from eight and a drop goal for a personal tally of 16 points.
The result sees the Crusaders jumped to the top of the table, momentarily at least, after coming away from Loftus with a bonus point for four tries. The bonus point-clinching try came from Tanerau Latimer â€“ his second of the night â€“ and was set up by that man Carter.
The Crusaders led 23-3 at the break courtesy of two tries inside the opening quarter of an hour and two Dan Carter penalties and a dropped-goal by the No 10. The Bulls only points of a terribly lacklustre opening 40 minutes came courtesy of a solitary Morne Steyn penalty.
The feared Bulls pack could not get on top of the visitors, who also controlled their possession much better. The Bulls by contrast were woeful â€“ silly mistakes, dropped passes and wrong options plagued their game and only in the closing ten minutes with the game gone did they manage to spark.
Tries by Victor Matfield and reserve scrumhalf Heini Adams gave the crowd something to shout about, but by then many of the Loftus faithful had departed in disgust at the shoddy display dished up by the Bulls.
All is not lost just yet, however.
If the Brumbies beat the Highlanders in Dunedin tomorrow, the Bulls semi charge is over, but if the Brumbies lose then the Bulls are still in with the smallest mathematical chance.
They would need the Brumbies to lose again in Christchurch against the Saders in the final round, while they would have to get five points from their final pool match against the Stormers in Cape Town.
Highly unlikely, but still a slim possibility.
Bulls – Tries: Victor Matfield, Heini Adams. Conversions: Morne Steyn (2). Penalty: Steyn.
Crusaders - Tries: Tanerau Latimer (2), Aaron Mauger, Leon MacDonald. Conversions: Dan Carter (3). Penalties: Carter (2). Drop goal: Carter.
By Andrew Hollely, at Loftus Versfeld
76 mins: Heini Adams, on for Fourie du Preez – who had a good game – scores another consolation for the home team. Steyn does it again. (Steyn 3-3). SADERS 35-17.
74 mins: Bulls coach Heyneke Meyer has now made all his changes to bring some spark, but it’s too little too late. More fans file out of Loftus.
71 mins: Carter attempts a penalty from 3m inside his own half and 5m from the right touchline. It drops short. Bulls counter. Lineout Bulls on Saders 10m line. (Carter 5/9)
68 mins: Bulls are still within sight of the line. And Victory Matfield is awarded a consolation try by the TV ref. It looked a little dodgy. Steyn’s kick is good. (Steyn 2/2) SADERS 35-10.
65 mins: The Bulls are as close as they have been all night. Saders are all offside for the umpteenth time. Penalty Bulls. Saders prop Greg Somerville is shown yellow for coming in from the side.
61 mins: And it’s Carter with a superb break and great off-load in the tackle to MacDonald, who in turn feeds Latimer for his second. It’s carnage out there. The Bulls famed faithful start pouring out of the stadium with 19 minutes showing on the clock. Carter kicks the extras. (Carter 5/8). SADERS 35-3.
57 mins: Dan Carter is pulling all the strings and looks like he has the ball on one too. His pin-point line-kicking is making the Bulls pack have to trudge back many times. The Bulls have no answer to the Saders flyhalf.
52 mins: It looks like it could turn nasty at any point, but a massive punt by Dan Carter restores order. Bulls lineout on their 22. Penalty Bulls. Lineout on Saders 10m line. Bulls hold on well, but making no ground. Saders treading offside line closely, but they keep the Bulls at bay.
48 mins: Finally something something for the Bulls fans to shout about, but it turns nasty as a tackle on Akhona Ndungane without the ball could have prevented a try. It’s just a penalty. They kick to touch, but lose the ball in the drive anyway.
44 mins: Saders are still camped in Bulls 22. The Bulls almost intercept, the Saders get it back. A clever chip by Carter is snapped up by fullback Leon MacDonald for a try to the right of the sticks. Carter misses again. (Carter 4/7) SADERS 28-3.
42 mins: The Bulls come out fired up, but still silly errors plague them. More aimless kicking from both teams dominates. Eventually Saders lineout on halfway. They retain possession through several phases and are 5m out. Scrum Saders for Bulls knock.
39 mins: Another penalty to the Saders in a kickable position. Carter’s kick is good. It brings to an end a miserable half for the Bulls. (Carter 4/6) SADERS 23-3.
36 mins: The Bulls are flat and lacklustre. They have not sparked once this whole half. Heads are beginning to hang… Penalty Crusaders for another Bulls infringement at the scrum. Carter makes no mistake. (Carter 3/5) SADERS 20-3
31 mins: The Bulls are still making too many mistakes and taking wrong options. Another knock results in a Saders scrum on the Bulls 22. The Bulls thwart the attack so Carter kicks a snap drop from 35m out. SADERS 17-3.
29 mins: The two teams spend about three minutes kicking to each other, before the Bulls get a lineout just outside Saders 22. Bulls spin the ball wide quickly, but the Saders defence is up to task, but they are pinged for offside. Steyn lines it up from almost in front. It’s good. (Steyn 1/1) SADERS 14-3.
26 mins: Bulls are penalised for going off their feet. Carter lines it up from about 30m out and misses. (Carter 2/4)
23 mins: The Crusaders are clearly up for this game, but the Bulls are slowly getting things right. They are in Sader territory. Ralph is lucky not to be binned for a blatant late shoulder charge on Fourie du Preez. Bulls get penalty though. Lineout 10m from Saders line. They drive. Saders penalised again. Somehow the visitors escape and a long kick into Bulls 22 relieves pressure.
21 mins: Scrum Saders 35m out in front. They attack left then right, stretching the Bulls, but a kick ahead is gathered and van der Westhuyzen clears to near halfway.
19 mins: Bulls are playing second fiddle. Saders on attack in Bulls 22, but Bulls get first penalty. Lineout to Bulls on Saders 10m line.
15 mins: Saders score their second try when poor defence allows Aaron Mauger through under the poles. Carter adds extras. (Carter 2/3) SADERS 14-0.
10 mins: Carter misses a penalty attempt. Bulls making lots of mistakes. (Carter 1/2)
7 mins: Carter is using his boot liberally and a good kick finds Frikkie Welsh pout of position and the Saders get the lineout on Bulls 22. They attack left then right, and Tanerau Latimer is on hand to finish the move. Carter converts. (Carter 1/1) SADERS 7-0.
3 mins: Saders sweep up field, but Caleb Ralph’s pass hits Carter in the face and it goes into touch. Bulls lineout. Nerves are visible.
1 min: Morne Steyn kicks off. Saders gather. Dan Carter kicks. Bulls counter with high ball, so too Saders. Fourie du Preez dots down for 22 kick.