The Crusaders smashed the Bulls Vodacom Super 14 dream in Christchurch, giving the bully Boys a rugby lesson in winning 35-15.
A minute into the second half, the Crusaders won possession on the half way line and took the ball through 17 phases before creating the space for Chris Jack to crash over. It was a magnificent display of controlled aggression in the tackle and it illustrated the dominance the Crusaders had on the night. Later in the match the Bulls took the ball through 14 phases, lost 20 metres in doing so and conceded the turnover.
Bulls captain Victor Matfield conceded afterwards that the 17-phase try was the killer blow on an evening in which the Bulls were hanging on from the outset.
The Bulls did offer the illusion of a contest when Bryan Habana scored with the last move of the first half, but this was a match in which one team offered a game plan and creativity and the other came armed with guts and very little else.
As in Pretoria a fortnight ago when the Crusaders hammered the Bulls, the tactic of denying the Bulls quality phase possession worked effectively. The Crusaders kept touch kicks to a minimum, opted always to kick long and centrefield and then relied on Richie McCaw to suffocate the Bulls attack at the breakdown. McCaw was sensational, accounting for three turnovers in the first five minutes and in total the Crusaders won 12 turnovers to the Bulls three. It was an area of the game that destroyed the Bulls, whose only hope was to get early points and an early edge over the home team forwards.
It did not happen. In fact the Crusaders managed to spoil three of the Bulls lineouts and they put the heat on the Bulls scrum to force a turnover with the visitors camped in the Crusaders 22.
Daniel Carter, with front foot ball in the first hour, dictated the flow of the game, just as he did in Pretoria when the Crusaders led 35-3 before winning 35-17. In Christchurch the Saders led 35-8 before coach Robbie Dean substituted McCaw and Carter. The Bulls scored a consolation try, but the 20 point differential could have been more damaging. Carter kicked just two from five conversions, but his 10 point match total was enough to break Andrew Mehrtens’ 200-points in a season record. Carter also became the first player to pass 200 Super rugby points in two successive seasons.
The Saders, having never been beaten in a Super rugby semi-final, were not in danger of losing against the Bulls, who had played their final against the Stormers a week earlier.
Surprisingly, though, the Bulls got suckered into playing the Saders style of play. The lineout was exposed as the one area of weakness in the Crusaders make-up, but the Bulls rarely kicked for touch in an attempt to dominate this aspect of the game.
It would not have made much of a difference to the final score as the Crusaders still tore the Bulls apart without any kind of lineout platform. McCaw and Jack were world class and Carter, Mauger, inside centre Casey Laulala, winger Rico Gear and fullback Leon Macdonald were all superior to what the Bulls could offer in these positions.
It was a long way for the Bulls to travel to take a beating, but no one could say that they were not warned. The Crusaders gave a hint of what to expect in Pretoria a fortnight ago and in front of their home support base, simply confirmed this superiority.
Tries: Rico Gear (20th minute, 30th minute), Chris Jack (43rd min), Corey Flynn (64th min), Aaron Mauger (68th min)
Convs: Carter (44th min, 68th min)
Pens: Carter (15th min)
D/Goal: Carter (36th min)
Tries: Bryan Habana (39th min)
Pens: Steyn (28th min)
4th minute: Bulls botch an attacking maul 25 metres out.
5th minute: Crusaders threaten after a third McCaw turnover in 2 minutes, but Gear loses possession on the way to the tryline. Bulls counter attack through a kick and put Saders under pressure. Forces a penalty against McCaw. Steyn misses from right in front from 30 metres out. Steyn 0/1.
9th minute: First penalty to Saders. Bulls scrum looks strong. Saders lose their first lineout.
12th minute: Another penalty to Bulls. They kick to the corner and set up the lineout drive.
14th minute: Saders dangerous on the counter attack … fifth turnover of the first quarter. Penalty. Carter to kick to posts from 40 metres. 3-0. Carter 1/1. 200 pts for season.
16th minute: 29 kicks in play so far, 15 to Saders and 14 to Bulls.
17th minute: Jack poaches a lineout ball. Stuart Dickenson penalises Saders for back chat.
18th minute: Bulls lose second lineout ball in a row. Saders dangerous on the counter once again.
20th minute: Superb counter attack from Macdonald, sets up the ruck and Gear runs onto a Laulala grubber. Try. 8-3. Carter surprisingly misses easy conversion. Carter 1/2
25th minute: Turnover count is six to one to Saders.
28th minute: Saders penalised after Steyn does well with a break. Steyn kicks for posts from 40 metres. Steyn: 1/2
30th minute: More superb play from McCaw. Another turnover. Saders attack. Again Laulala sets it up and Gear’s in the business. 13-3. Carter conversion: Misses from sideline. Carter 1/3.
35th minute: Great scrum from Crusaders. Turn over the Bulls scrum 25 metres from their own goalline. Scrum to Saders. Carter kicks a drop goal from the resultant attack. 16-3.
38th minute: Saders penalised. Jonny Leo is penalised. Matfield decides to go for the try. Kick to the corner. Bulls attack. Bulls drive superbly and change their tactic, by moving it to Habana. Fantastic pass from Du Preez and a flying Habana crashes through Chris Jack’s tackle. Steyn misses kick. 16-8. Steyn 1/3.
40th minute: That’s halftime. Saders lead 16-8 but Bulls needed that score. McCaw has been superb, with Saders dominating turnover count 7 to 2. Bakkies Botha, in his 50th game, is also off injured.
42nd minute: Saders took the ball through 17 phases with their forwards, rumbling it up 40 metres with pick and drives, then send it out to Chris Jack who scores. Sensational stuff. 21-8 to Saders. Carter adds the extras. 23-8. Carter: 2/4.
45th minute: Saders scrumhalf Ellis hurts his leg and is off.
46th minute: Bulls lose their third lineout against the throw. And Crusaders get a penalty from the next phase. Carter misses with the penalty kick to touch and puts his team under pressure with the Bulls counter kick.
47th minute: Laulala makes a great break and comes within five metres of scoring. Jacques Cronje does good work on the ground and forces a penalty. Steyn relieves the pressure with a kick to the corner.
48th minute: Bulls get another penalty and kick to the corner. Senio penalised for a trip. More bad news for Bulls. Bryan Habana is off with an ankle injury.
49th minute: Good spell for the Bulls. Sustained attack. Crusaders have conceded seven penalties and the Bulls only three.
55th minute: Flurry of penalties to Bulls. They attack again. Another kick to the corner to set up the try. But the Bulls technically infringe on the maul and the Saders get the penalty.
57th minute: Very scrappy period. Kevin Senio is off and Carter is playing scrumhalf. It has disrupted the Saders.
59th minute: Bulls again lose possession when on attack. Turnovers favour Saders 10 to 3.
60th minute: Kicks in play (34 to Bulls, 41 to Saders). 75 in total.
61st minute: Bulls again mess up a lineout. Senio back on. Carter back to flyhalf.
63rd minute: Crusaders attack. Welsh misses Macdonald. Kick-through is scrambled into touch. Quick throw from Mauger to Flynn. Score. 28-8. Carter misses conversion. Carter 2/5.
65th minute: Bulls again forced to concede a penalty with McCaw forcing the turnover. Penalty to Crusaders. McCaw off.
68th minute: Mauger makes a magnificent break and sprints away from the Bulls defence to run 50 metres and score. 33-8 with conversion to come. Carter kicks the conversion. 3/6
72nd minute: Crusaders take off Carter as well. And immediately are punished when Pierre Spies scores the easiest of tries. 35-13. Steyn converts. 35-15. 2/4.
75th minute: Turnover count favours Saders 12 to 3.