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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Bulls Hold Out to Secure URC Grand Final Spot

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In a masterclass of disciplined set-piece and aerial rugby, the Vodacom Bulls triumphed over the formidable Leinster side to secure their second United Rugby Championship (URC) final. The victory, driven by the brilliance of Willie Le Roux and an imposing forward pack, saw the Bulls dismantle a Leinster team boasting 17 test internationals.

Clinical Execution
The The first half in the country’s capital was tense, with both teams scoring a try apiece. A penalty goal by the Bulls' Johan Goosen on the stroke of halftime saw them hold a narrow three-point lead at the break. Both teams created try-scoring chances in the opening 10 minutes, which they failed to convert into points. Leinster’s Ross Byrne missed a penalty goal attempt 10 minutes later.

The hosts came close to breaking through the defense in the 18th minute as Devon Williams cruised through in the corner after some good passing out wide, but the try was denied after an infringement. The Bulls were dealt a blow soon after as Petersen received a yellow card for a deliberate knock-down, reducing them to 14 men. Leinster capitalized on the extra man almost immediately as they found space out wide to score compliments of James Lowe. The successful conversion pushed them 7-0 up.

Their lead, however, was short-lived as the hosts pounced back with a try by Johan Goosen, who spotted a gap in the defense to dart through and level the scores. Goosen added to his magic by kicking a valuable three-pointer on the stroke of halftime to nudge them into a 10-7 lead going into the break.

The Bulls wasted no time increasing their lead in the second half with Petersen dotting down the ball two minutes after play resumed for an encouraging 17-7 lead. Leinster hit back hard with their second try by Caelan Doris from a strong forward drive minutes after an earlier try attempt, and they added a penalty goal minutes later to level the scores once again with 21 minutes left to play.

The Pretoria side showed their fighting spirit as the match progressed, with Goosen kicking his second penalty goal. This was followed by another by Leinster before Petersen wrapped up his brace after gathering a great chip kick to dart over the chalk with 13 minutes left on the clock. The Bulls had an opportunity to extend their lead with a minute left to play, but Goosen’s attempt at goal went wide, and they kept on fighting until the final whistle to snatch the 25-20 victory, which saw them claim a spot in the top two.

Defensive Simplicity
Key to the Bulls' success was their exceptional defense. The back-row trio of Marco van Staden, Elrich Louw, and Player of the Match Cameron Hanekom outperformed Leinster's highly-rated test trio. Their rush defense and ruck competition stifled Leinster's attack, with David Kriel and Harold Vorster leading the charge in blitzing off the line. Even Jamison Gibson-Park, Leinster's world-class scrumhalf, struggled to make an impact.

Inspired Interplay
Elrich Louw's interplay with Le Roux and Goosen was pivotal. Louw's height and positioning on the right flank disrupted Leinster's defense, creating continuity in the Bulls' aerial game. The Bulls' attack was a testament to basic rugby principles executed to perfection, particularly their control of the kicking battle and the "Toulouse double ten" approach with Goosen and Le Roux.

Leinster's Struggles
Leinster, despite their pedigree, appeared tired and unable to cope with the Bulls' intensity. Their front row, expected to dominate, was overpowered by Wilco Louw's brilliance. The back row and centers failed to break the Bulls' rush defense, and their tactics were thwarted by the hosts' organization and commitment. Joe McCarthy was a bright spot for Leinster, but despite his efforts, Leinster's season ended in disappointment.

The 16th Man
The officiating was a contentious issue, with inconsistencies around the breakdown and tackle line. Notably, Willie Le Roux was taken out with a late shot by Ryan Baird, resulting in an HIA. The refereeing decisions added a layer of controversy to the match.

Grand Final
The Bulls' victory sets the stage for an electrifying final against the Glasgow Warriors. With the home advantage and their current form, the Bulls are poised to make history in the URC final.

Scorers:
Vodacom Bulls 25 (10) – Tries: Johan Goosen, Sergeal Petersen (2). Conversions: Goosen (2). Penalty Goals: Goosen (2).
Leinster 20 (7) – Tries: James Lowe, Caelan Doris. Conversions: Ross Byrne (2). Penalty Goals: Byrne (2).


Picture: Vodacom Bulls
[Submitted by Kevin Rademeyer]

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Kevin Rademeyer
     

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