RYAN VREDE reports on the Crusaders’ 28-13 victory over the Bulls in which they were never stretched by the bumbling and lethargic South Africans.
Hail the play-off kings. The 15-point margin of defeat flatters the Bulls. Not for a minute did the Crusaders look like their imposing record in the knock-out stages would be tarnished. They were dominant in every facet of play, supremely so.
Their method was pragmatic and if there was anything spectacular about this performance it was found in the unfailing accuracy with which they execute a simple game plan. Add a measure of individual flair and you had a cocktail that incapacitated the Bulls. This was a statement performance that should concern their semi-final opponents.
For the Bulls, there is no shame in losing to the Crusaders in Christchurch. Indeed those who believed they would break their drought in the city had no real base for that belief. This Bulls side is vastly inferior, lacking the calibre of players and experience to have harboured serious ambitions of an upset.
However, while the result was not surprising, the quality of their error-strewn performance certainly was. They fed Dan Carter with kickable opportunities and paid the ultimate price, the flyhalf racking up 18 points with his boot.
It would be remiss not to credit the Crusaders for the manner in which they blunted the Bulls’ attacking intent. Physical, often brutal, and consistently accurate in defence, they simply bullied their visitors into submission. They owned the gainline, and the Bulls were rarely able find the space or time they needed to roll out their game plan. Consequently they were made to look rudderless for large periods of the contest, with their struggles compounded by the injury-enforced replacement of Chiliboy Ralepelle (10th minute), Bjorn Basson (37th) and Akona Ndungane (43rd).
Conversely the Crusaders were able to control the game’s flow, tempo and territory, with their halfback pair of Dan Carter and Andy Ellis orchestrating matters. The Bulls were unable to quell the Crusaders’ heavies in close quarters and conceded a string of penalties, two of which Carter banked before he added a conversion after expertly putting Zac Guilford through a hole in the defensive line with a perfectly timed pass.
Carter sunk a right-footed drop goal shortly thereafter to give his side a comfortable lead, but the hosts would have been acutely aware of their failings in the red zone which meant the Bulls were still alive at 16-3 going down the tunnel.
Carter capitalised on ill-discipline which has been a depressing feature of the Bulls’ campaign, kicking six more points just after the restart. But the Bulls found some groove, scoring through Dewald Potgieter after a powerful rolling maul.
The Crusaders were content to revert to a holding pattern, punching up through their forwards or inviting the Bulls to attack from deep by kicking in behind their back three. There would be no telling rebuttal from the three-time champions outside of a late Wynand Olivier try that served only to add a dash of respectability to the scoreline.
Crusaders – Try: Zac Guilford. Conversion: Carter. Penalty: Dan Carter (6), Drop goal: Carter
Bulls – Try: Dewald Potgieter, Wynand Olivier. Penalty: Morne Steyn