South Africa Win the Super 14 Rugby Cup Finals

Last weekend saw history being made when both South African teams, namely the Coastal Sharks from Durban and the Blue Bulls from Pretoria, both won their semi final games against the two New Zealand teams, the Auckland Blues and the Canterbury Crusaders, respectively. No matter whether the Bulls or the Sharks won the final game, the cup was still to stay in South Africa. Well, they forgot to tell that to the South African rugby mad supporters. All 54000 tickets to the game in Durban were sold within hours on Monday and the whole country was divided into either Sharks supporters, or Bulls supporters.

The week was full of excitement and hype and this was certainly the greatest rugby coup, since 1995, when South Africa made it to the World Cup Final, against New Zealand. We won that match and again, it seemed that S.A could not lose now either. But, tickets were sold on the black market, competitions were held with tickets as prizes, the radio and TV stations were fixated with Saturdays game and urged the rugby public to phone in to the shows. Newspapers and magazines were full of rugby trivia and in pubs around the country, the only conversation taking place was rugby talk. The whole country was abuzz in the run up to Saturday’s big match.

Thousands of people took a days leave from their places of employment, in order to get ready and get themselves to Durban, early. Accommodation in hotels, hostels and bed & breakfast establishments were all completely fully booked, days in advance. Both the supporters clubs were making forecasts, laying down challenges and preparing cars, outfits and anything else that could be adapted to the official colours and symbols of the teams. On Friday the traffic rush started to descend on Durban. Cars were seen with streamers, ribbons, flags and other paraphernalia. Bottle stores and butcheries were hard pressed to supply the demand on them by aspirant party goers and braaiers. The big day had arrived.

The bookies had the Bulls slightly ahead as favourites, but the locals were having no part of that and the odds swayed back and forth. Every pub, hotel, club and household in the country were busting at the seams with noisy rugby fans. At 15.00 pm the whistle blew to start the big game, the clash of the Titans.

The game was fast, hard, furious, aggressive, noisy, body-crunching, frenetic, scintillating and any other adjective to describe the perfect conditions. The weather was glorious, the country united in their love of rugby, but divided in to two very clearly defined supporter’s camps.

Throughout the game, the Sharks seemed to be the better team, they were just a few points up, for almost the entire match, but it was always anybody’s game, as the scores were so close and as they say, “it’s not over til the fat lady sings”. Never could anyone have realised just how prophetic this harmless adage would prove to be.

A fast, furious and frenetic match built to the most dramatic climax imaginable as, with just three minutes to go, it seemed the Sharks had clinched a win against the odds when Albert van den Berg scored their second try, to put the Sharks up to 19 and the Bulls at 13. With only seconds to go, the Sharks supporters came alive in a cacophony of congratulatory applause, but little were they to realise that they were about to change the history.

Due to all the noise, nobody heard the final hooter, not even the referee. Play was allowed to continue one and a half minutes too long. The Sharks had all but stopped playing, when the Bulls knocked the ball on, in an error not seen by the ref. He allowed them to continue and the Bulls, caught the Sharks off guard and Bryan Habana scored a try, for them. The scores were now at 19 to the Sharks and 18 to the Bulls. The Sharks and all their supporters looked amazed, shocked, disbelieving and upset at this unfortunate event and all but begged and willed the ref to stop play, disallow the try, or at least consult with the t.m.o and match officials, but to no avail. He allowed the try.

The Bulls now had an opportunity to kick for poles, for another 2 points and win the match. The stadium fell silent, all attendees trying to grasp the magnitude of what was happening. At best, the Bulls could miss, forcing a draw and playing an extra 20 minutes. Please miss, was the thoughts of half the country. Please get it over were the thoughts of the other half of the country. Well, the Bulls succeeded, won the game and stole the trophy. The Bulls and their supporters were absolutely over the moon with the result, while the Sharks and their loyal fans were devastated. Many people were seen crying, some for joy, some with misery. That was it. It was over. The Bulls supporters rushed off to grab another celebratory drink. The Shark’s faithful fans, just sat still, head in hands.

Actually, something strange happened after the match. The country united in glory, with Bulls and Sharks supporters hugging and shaking hands and sharing braai fires around the country. The Sharks fans conceded that the Bulls had won and the Bulls supporters felt sorry for them and admitted they were very lucky to have stolen the trophy in the dying seconds of the game. The big thing is that even though the trophy will be held in Pretoria and not Durban, it is still in South Africa. It can not be lost. It belongs to the whole country. The Super 14 tournament is considered the toughest, most physical rugby in the world and it’s a long tournament, all of 16 weeks across 3 continents. The future also looks very bright. With the high standards of rugby and uniting of opposite Provincial teams, so close to the World Cup, in a couple of months, this can only bode well for the Springboks. Will we be bringing home the ultimate rugby trophy?

Run of play (as taken from S.A Rugby website)

Habana’s knockout punch was all the more devastating to the Sharks, because even the Bulls and the staunchest of their fans, would have conceded that the home-side, had deserved to win an

epic encounter, worthy of South Africa’s first Final. Not expected to stand up to the blue bulldozer for the full 80 minutes, the Sharks played with awesome passion and concentration, to knock the Bulls out of their stride. John Smit and his men were literally like Sharks in a feeding frenzy, when it came to the break-down; swarming in greater numbers and rucking aggressively, to deny the Bulls the compelling momentum, they like to build up.

Sharks coach, Dick Muir, had clearly encouraged his charges to go for broke, with the Sharks willing to have a go, from any point on the field and it nearly worked, as the home-side nosed in front of a Bulls side, forced into making errors.

The Bulls, after having much the worse of the opening ten minutes, had scored an impressive try, through Pierre Spies, in the 12th minute, after a penalty to touch, strong driving and a neat flip by Victor Matfield, but the menace of the ease, with which it was scored, soon dissipated, as Spies made a critical error, to let the Sharks back in front.

The Sharks were intent on putting pressure on the injured Fourie du Preez, through Ruan Pienaar and Butch James and a heavy hit by the latter on the scrumhalf, caused Spies to panic and try to get a 50/50 pass to Akona Ndungane — instead the ball went to JP Pietersen and the tournament’s top try-scorer cracked on the pace, to outsprint the wrong-footed Bulls to the goalline, 50 metres away.

Although Percy Montgomery missed the conversion, it was 8-7 after the first quarter and the flow was with the Sharks.

A swirling wind made conditions difficult and with Johan Roets and Percy Montgomery jittery under the high ball, it seemed mistakes, as so often in Finals, would have a more important bearing, than constructive plays.

Montgomery kicked a penalty to make it 11-7 but Derick Hougaard reciprocated to cut the lead back to one point (11-10).

An up-and-under paid dividends for the Sharks, as JP Nel was caught offsides playing the ball after Roets had knocked it on and Montgomery’s kick put the Sharks 14-10 to the good, after 34 minutes.

This was still the score at the break, a point reached with the Sharks hard on attack, but in the second period, the momentum started to swing the way of the Bulls. Hougaard missed a drop, then was short with a long-range penalty and a strong breakout sparked by Gary Botha and carried on by Pedrie Wannenburg, was snuffed out right on the corner.

Possession of the ball and field position was starting to favour the Bulls, but an excellent piece of recycling came to naught, when James made a crunching tackle on Wynand Olivier, as he

crashed through inside Matfield.

However, the Sharks were forced to concede a penalty and Hougaard stepped up to make it 14-13, at the start of the final quarter.

The Sharks’ tackling was nothing short of heroic, however, and with the Bulls tending to put the ball to boot too readily, plus Jaco van der Westhuyzen botching a comfortable drop attempt from the ten-metre line and Butch James getting away with a cruel knock-on behind his own line, when the bouncing ball bobbled away from him, the crescendo rising from the King’s Park ramparts signalled that the majority of fans, were beginning to sense a night of celebrations, at the world’s biggest braai.

This confidence was not misplaced. The Sharks had got their well-drilled pick-and-go operating again and a penalty to touch, enabled Johann Muller to claim the lineout and set in motion a potent drive. The Sharks were held up, once, twice and then Albert van den Berg, on for Johan Ackermann, stretched that elastic body of his, off the side and squeezed the ball over the line.

There might have been a question, about whether Van den Berg had placed, or rolled the ball over the line, but not in the mind of referee Steve Walsh (who it must be said had an excellent game) who raised his hand to award a try.

The score was 19-13 and with Montgomery having been subbed, it fell to Francois Steyn to try to add the extra two points that, with less than three minutes left to play, would have put the Bulls two scores behind.

But, Steyn missed and it meant the Bulls could still win, with a converted try, but to do that they had to keep ownership of the ball and the trouble was that the oval of abused latex, was with the Sharks.

But then James, followed by Steyn, made crucial errors, by failing to get the ball into touch with panic-stricken clearance kicks and with Van der Westhuyzen and Ndungane making spirited runs, the Bulls stormed into the red zone.

At a ruck, it seemed as though the Bulls had had the ball taken off them, but somehow it emerged back on their side and went frantically from hand to hand, without seeming to pose any real threat, before a speculative wide pass to the right, by Adams, reached Habana and the speedy wing cut back in from the five-metre dotted line, crossed the 15-metre line and then suddenly straightened off his left foot, to surge through and soar over the line, with the clock showing 81 minutes and 36 seconds.

Hougaard still had to make sure of the conversion, but even though the Sharks charged out, they were stopped by the referee and remained loitering in front of the kicker, Pretoria’s ‘Liefling’ made no mistake, to give the Bulls the most improbable of victories and providing a home for the Super 14 Trophy in Pretoria.

Nicole Thomas

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