Victor Matfield says the Bulls’ clinical performance against the Crusaders justified their decision to rest key players a week ago.
The Bulls were pilloried in some quarters of the media, mostly in Australasia, for opting to send a decidedly weakened team to Newlands a fortnight ago. Their detractors argued that their decision was against the spirit of the game, with some even suggesting that it amounted to a conspiracy to ensure that two South African franchises host semi-finals.
Others predicted they would lose momentum and in so doing jeopardise their chance of victory in the semi-final against the Crusaders. However, they comprehensively outclassed the New Zealanders, winning 39-24, to completely blow that theory out of the water.
‘The break clearly freshened us up. The energy was there for everyone to see,’ Matfield told keo.co.za. ‘There was a lot of criticism and pressure from the media and some of the public, but our decision proved to be the right one.
‘We put in an 80-minute performance and I think that has a lot to do with the guys having a week off. It benefitted us against the Crusaders and we’re hoping it will give us an edge in the final.’
The Bulls’ performance lifted the crowd at the Orlando Stadium in Soweto, who produced a cacophony of chants, boos (reserved for Dan Carter when he lined up a goal kick) and blares of vuvuzelas. Traffic congestion meant many were late to arrive, but when they did fill the stadium they produced an atmosphere that rivalled some of the great Loftus nights.
‘The atmosphere was amazing and it definitely lifted the guys,’ Matfield said. ‘At times I couldn’t hear what the guy next to me was saying but luckily it seemed to settle down when the lineout calls were made. Boeremusiek and vuvuzelas. Brilliant. Loftus will always be home, but the atmosphere here is something special and it’ll be even better for the final. I can’t wait.’
Matfield intimated in the post-match press conference that he would relish playing the Stormers, and got his wish later that evening when their bitter rivals downed the Waratahs to set up the dream final.
‘They’ve played a good brand of rugby and have an outstanding defence, so we’ll have to be on top of our game on attack,’ he said. ‘Tonight illustrated the value of a good start and we’ll have to start well again in the final. The team who grabs the initiative early on will be hard to stop. It’s going to be a massive game.’
By Ryan Vrede