Four-drop Steyn seals Crusaders' fate
Bulls flyhalf Morne Steyn kicked four drop goals and nine other points to take his side from a deficit to a well-deserved 36-23 win over the Crusaders in the second Super 14 semifinal at Loftus on Saturday. The Bulls now play the Chiefs in Pretoria for the 2009 Super 14 title.
Steyn was the toast of the Blue-clad Loftus. He also kicked three conversions and a penalty, and missed only a monstrous drop attempt and one that hit the posts from 10 attempts.
His general play was also of the highest order and he must now be a front-runner for the Springbok Test side after a similar good performance against the Sharks last weekend.
It was only the second semifinal defeat for the Crusaders in the 11 times they have reached this stage of the competition. Both defeats were at Loftus, the previous one coming in 2007 when the Bulls went on to win the title.
As individuals, the Bulls pack did well enough, but as a unit they were not altogether great in the first half. In fact, they seemed a beaten side when the visitors took a 20-7 lead after 24 minutes.
There were too many errors on defence, on attack and also in the lineouts where they lost some of their own throws to a competitive Crusaders side.
But they were a different team after the break and their momentum, coupled with the obviously tiring Crusaders pack, saw the possession and the fortunes change dramatically.
The Bulls came back from that 13-point deficit to lead 27-20 at the break in a surreal set of circumstances, with the visitors squandering an early try through a knock-on and the Bulls throwing away two tries through wrong options by Marius Delport and Zane Kirchner when they had supporting players to finish.
The Crusaders had the majority of the possession early on, and with it a grip on the game as the Bulls’ high kick and charge tactics were undone by erratic kicking and good fielding under the ball by the visitors.
At that stage it was a very quiet Loftus crowd, packed to the rafters, that saw Adam Whitelock score to put the visitors 10-7 ahead after an overlap following a breakdown.
That followed a penalty by Stephen Brett in the sixth minute and also a Bryan Habana try when Morne Steyn had a half break, was tackled and the ball was recycled to the other side. The gap for Habana was so big that he looked down to see whether play had been stopped.
A Leon MacDonald penalty followed (13-7 to the Crusaders).
Then the visitors, playing very much in the style of their hosts, went ahead through an Isaac Ross try when he out-jumped Akona Ndungane on the tryline to fall over for a converted try (20-7).
The Bulls were in trouble on the scoreboard and on the field.
But after 32 minutes, Steyn went for another break.
Deon Stegmann, who added some effective running to his fetching role, was tackled and from the ruck the ball went to the blind side where Kirchner drew the last man and send Ndungane over. Steyn converted from wide out (20-14 to the Crusaders).
The loss of sin-binned Thomas Waldrom, whose absence saw the Bulls add 13 points, also contributed to the turn-around.
Two minutes later the Bulls drew closer through a Steyn drop kick when they opted to play rather than take a penalty, and he repeated that barely a minute later.
The Bulls were level—and then came a wonderful run by Pierre Spies from near halfway after a poor chip kick by the Crusaders.
The gap was there, but the big man, in full flight and outrunning the chasing Crusaders backs, was indeed something to behold.
His try under the posts was converted and the Bulls were seven points ahead at the break.
The hosts, after missing some lineouts in the first half, were much improved in this facet in the second—and also in their commitment to the breakdown and communication when the Saders counter-attacked.
They spent large periods of the second half in the opposition territory, but strangely conceded the first points when Andy Ellis used advantage played by the referee during one of their few sorties to Bulls territory to put over an angled drop (27-23).
It was tight all over again, and assistant referee Mark Lawrence added to the tension with a blatantly wrong call, which he immediately admitted, when the Bulls seemed to be on their way for another try.
With their forwards now providing plenty of ball on the front foot, Steyn added another well-taken drop to make it 33-23 and then added a 50-yarder to take them to 36 with a penalty thrown in before the drop goals.—Sapa