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South Africa Win the Super 14 Rugby Cup Finals
Last weekend history was made when both South African teams namely Coast Sharks from Durban and Blue Bulls from Pretoria won their semi-final matches against two New Zealand teams, Auckland Blues and Canterbury Crusaders respectively. Regardless of whether the Bulls or the Sharks won the final game, the cup still had to stay in South Africa. Well, they forgot to tell that to the crazy South African rugby supporters. All 54,000 tickets for the game in Durban sold out within hours on Monday and the entire venue was split into either Sharks supporters or Bulls supporters.
The week was full of excitement and hype and this was arguably rugby’s biggest coup since 1995 when South Africa reached the World Cup final against New Zealand. We won that match and again it looked like SA couldn’t lose now either. But tickets were sold on the black market, competitions were held with tickets as prizes, radio and television stations fixed on Saturday’s game and asked the rugby public to call in the show. Newspapers and magazines were full of rugby trivia and in pubs across the country, the only conversation going on was rugby talk. The whole country was buzzing ahead of Saturday’s big game.
Thousands of people took a day off from their jobs to get ready and get to Durban early. Accommodation in hotels, guesthouses and bed and breakfasts were all fully booked, days in advance. Both support clubs made predictions, set challenges and prepared cars, clothing and anything else that could match the official colors and symbols of the teams. On Friday the traffic started to descend in Durban. Cars were seen with ribbons, streamers, flags and other paraphernalia. Bottle shops and butchers were pressed to meet the demand for them from visitors and aspiring party shops. The big day had come.
The bookies had the Bulls slightly ahead as favourites, but the home side were having no part of it and the odds swung back and forth. Every pub, hotel, club and family in the country was packed with rowdy rugby fans. At 15.00 the whistle blew to start the big game, the clash of the titans.
The game was fast, hard, furious, aggressive, loud, body-crushing, frantic, brilliant and any other adjective to describe the perfect conditions. The weather was glorious, the country united in their love of rugby but divided into two clearly defined camps of supporters.
Throughout the game the Sharks looked to be the better team, they were only a few points ahead for almost the entire game but it was always anyone’s game as the scores were so close and as they say, “it’s not over until the end .sings the fat lady.” No one could have ever realized how prophetic this innocuous word would prove to be.
A fast, furious and furious game built to the most dramatic climax imaginable as, with just three minutes to go, the Sharks looked to have sealed an against-the-odds victory when Albert van den Berg scored their second try, for level the sharks. 19 and the Bulls at 13. With just seconds left, Sharks supporters erupted into a cacophony of congratulatory applause, but little did they realize they were about to change history.
Because of all the noise, no one heard the final shot, not even the referee. The game was allowed to continue a minute and a half too long. The Sharks had stopped playing when the Bulls fumbled the ball on a foul that was not seen by the referee. 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 for the Sharks and 18 for the Bulls. The Sharks and all their supporters looked stunned, shocked, disbelieving and upset by this unfortunate event and all but begged and pleaded with the referee to stop play, disallow the try or at least consult with the TMO officials and of the match, but to no avail. He allowed the attempt.
The Bulls now had an opportunity to shoot for the pole, 2 more points and win the game. The stadium fell silent, everyone present trying to grasp the magnitude of what was happening. At best, the Bulls could come up short, forcing a tie and playing 20 overtime minutes. Please get lost, was the opinion of half the country. Please switch to the thoughts of the other half of the country. Well, the Bulls did it, 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 from joy, some from misery. That was it. It was over. Bulls supporters rushed to grab another celebratory drink. Loyal Shark fans just sat back, head in hands.
In fact, something strange happened after the match. The country joined in the glory, with Bulls and Sharks supporters hugging and shaking hands and sharing braai fires across the country. The Sharks fans admitted that the Bulls had won and the Bulls supporters felt bad for them and admitted that they were very lucky to have stolen the trophy in the dying seconds of the game. The main thing is that even though the trophy will be held in Pretoria and not Durban, it is still in South Africa. It cannot be lost. It belongs to the whole country. The Super 14 tournament is considered the toughest, most physical rugby in the world and is a long tournament spanning 16 weeks across 3 continents. The future also looks very bright. With the high standards of rugby and the coming together of opposing provincial teams so close to the World Cup in a few months, this can only bode well for the Springboks. Will we bring home the ultimate rugby trophy?
Run of play (as taken from the SA Rugby website)
Habana’s knockout blow was all the more devastating for the Sharks, as even the Bulls and their staunchest fans would have conceded that the home side deserved to win a
epic showdown, worthy of South Africa’s first final. Not expected to face the blue bulldozer for the full 80 minutes, the Sharks played with tremendous passion and focus to knock the Bulls off their stride. John Smit and his men were literally like sharks in a feeding frenzy when it came to spoiling; stacking up in numbers and aggressively scrambling to deny the Bulls the compelling momentum they love to build.
Sharks coach Dick Muir had clearly encouraged his charges to break, with the Sharks ready to go, from every point on the pitch and it almost worked, as the home side nosed ahead of a Bulls side forced into of mistakes.
The Bulls, after having far and away the worst of the opening ten minutes, had scored an impressive strike through Pierre Spies in the 12th minute after a touch penalty, strong driving and a fine strike from Victor Matfield , but the threat and the ease with which it was scored soon dissipated as Spies made a critical error to let the Sharks back in front.
The Sharks looked to put pressure on the injured Fourie du Preez through Ruan Pienaar and Butch James and a heavy uppercut from the latter caused Spies to panic and attempt a 50/50 pass to Akona Ndungane — instead. the ball went to JP Pietersen and the tournament’s top scorer scored at speed to wrong-foot the Bulls on the goal line 50 yards out.
Although Percy Montgomery missed the conversion, it was 8-7 after the first quarter and the tide was with the Sharks.
A swirling wind made conditions difficult and with Johan Roets and Percy Montgomery troubled under the high ball, it looked as if errors, as they often do in the final, would have a more significant impact than constructive play.
Montgomery hit a penalty to make it 11-7, but Derick Hougaard converted to cut the lead to one point (11-10).
It paid dividends for the Sharks as JP Nel was caught offside playing the ball after Roets had tackled him and Montgomery’s strike put the Sharks 14-10 up after 34 minutes.
That was still the score at the break, a point achieved with the Sharks strong on offense, but in the second period, the momentum began to swing the Bulls’ way. Hougaard missed a drop, then came up short with a long-range penalty and a powerful shot from Gary Botha and headed in by Pedrie Wannenburg was headed just into the corner.
Possession and field position were starting to favor the Bulls, but a brilliant piece of recycling went to waste when James took a hard tackle on Wynand Olivier as he
crashed 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.
However, the Sharks’ kicking was far from heroic, and with the Bulls trying to get the ball in too quickly, plus Jaco van der Westhuyzen failing a comfortable drop attempt from the ten-yard line and Butch James getting away with a cruel one. shot behind his line as the bouncing ball bounced away from him, a crescendo rising from the walls of King’s Park signaled that most fans were beginning to feel a night of celebrations, at the world’s biggest braai.
This belief was not misplaced. The Sharks had again operated with their well-drilled turnover and a penalty to touch enabled Johann Muller to claim the byline and set a powerful move in motion. The Sharks held their ground, once, twice and then Albert van den Berg, in place of Johan Ackermann, stretched his lithe body from the wing and squeezed the ball over the line.
There might have been a question as to whether Van den Berg had placed or rolled the ball over the line, but not in the mind of referee Steve Walsh (who had a great game it must be said) who raised his hand to award a try.
The score was 19-13 and with Montgomery down, Francois Steyn tried to add the two extra points that, with less than three minutes to play, would have put the Bulls two points behind.
But Steyn missed and that meant the Bulls could still win, with a converted try, but to do that they had to keep possession and the problem was that the abused latex oval was with the Sharks.
But then James, followed by Steyn, made crucial mistakes, failing to contact the ball with panic-stricken clearances and with Van der Westhuyzen and Ndungane making strong runs, the Bulls entered the red zone.
In a scrum, it looked as if the Bulls had taken the ball away from him, but somehow he got back into their side and went frantically from hand to hand, without appearing to pose any real threat, before a speculative pass wide on the right. , from Adams, reached Habana and the speedy wing cut from the five-yard dotted line, crossed the 15-yard line, and then suddenly steered off his left foot, to skip and fly over the line, with the clock ticking 81 minutes and 36 seconds.
Hougaard still had to make sure of the conversion, but even though the Sharks attacked, they were stopped by the referee and left eager before the kick, Pretoria’s ‘Liefling’ made no mistake, to give the Bulls the most unlikely victory. and securing a home for the Super 14 Trophy in Pretoria.
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