Rugby: Errors sink Crusaders against rampaging Bulls

Bulls 39 Crusaders 24

Crusaders winger Sean Maitland is picked up by the Bulls defence during this morning’s Super 14 semifinal in Soweto. Photo / Getty Images
Crusaders winger Sean Maitland is picked up by the Bulls defence during this morning’s Super 14 semifinal in Soweto. Photo / Getty Images

Crusaders captain Richie McCaw bemoaned another error-ridden performance today as the Bulls rampaged into the Super 14 rugby final and an all-South African clash with the Stormers.

The Bulls won 39-24 in the first semifinal at Orlando Stadium in Soweto, and will host the Stormers there next weekend to shoot for back-to-back titles after they beat the Waratahs 25-6 in Cape Town.

The Bulls and Crusaders scored three tries apiece, but superboot Morne Steyn showed the move from their beloved Loftus Versfeld held no issues as he slotted eight of his nine attempts at goal.

He nailed six penalties in his 24-point haul as Australian referee Stu Dickinson pinged the Crusaders, particularly at scrum time in the final quarter.

Crusaders pivot Daniel Carter converted all his side's tries and added a solitary penalty, but he was unable to impose himself on the match.

It didn't start well for the visitors when a turnover saw No 8 Pierre Spies score a try in the third minute, while Bulls fullback Zane Kirchner later scored from a fumbled kick, one of several blunders by the visitors on kick returns.

"You don't want to just be here to make up numbers, you want to come here and perform, but a few lapses let us down," McCaw told Supersport.

"I guess that's been the story of our season. We've had teams on the ropes and our mistakes let them off. In this competition you just can't afford to do that. The Bulls certainly made us pay for our mistakes tonight."

McCaw refused to blame the hectic travel schedule for the defeat. The Crusaders lost to the Stormers and Bulls in South Africa, returned home to beat the Brumbies, then flew back across the Indian Ocean last week for another tough match at altitude.

"Today the guys were ready to play, we've got no excuses with the travel, we were ready to go and we came up short."

Two key factors were tipped by some to count against the Bulls; the move from fortress Loftus - which is required for the soccer World Cup - to an unfamiliar venue, and the fact coach Frans Ludeke rested 13 frontliners last weekend in their 10-38 defeat to the Stormers.

But the crowd in the 40,000-capacity stadium, many of whom were delayed by traffic jams which saw plenty of empty seats at kickoff, roared their team home.

""I've played 100 games for the Bulls and this is one of the best experiences I've ever had. Everyone's going to be back here next week and it's going to be huge," said Bulls captain Victor Matfield who marked his century match in style.

"It was nice to have the break last weekend. Everyone was nice and fresh . We knew the Crusaders were a quality side and we can't give them a 10-point of 15-point head start or we'd be in trouble. We knew we had to start well and the luckily the boys came out and did that."

The Bulls allowed the Crusaders less latitude than a fortnight previously in Pretoria, and led 23-10 at halftime, with a McCaw try from a scrum drive a rare high point for the visitors.

The Crusaders narrowed the gap to six points, five minutes into the second half when winger Sean Maitland scored from a brilliantly worked scrum move as fullback Colin Slade chimed in with quick hands.

Another Steyn penalty extended the lead before the gamebreaking play from man-of-the-match Fourie du Preez in the 63rd minute.

The Springbok No 9 darted around a narrow blindside on the left and the Crusaders' defence had no answer.

Carter sent a kick dead and Steyn goaled from a penalty following the scrum to make the buffer 19 points and the blue-clad crowd who'd trooped in from Pretoria was in full voice.

Lock Sam Whitelock, one of the Crusaders' best in a performance which will have been closely watched by the All Blacks' selectors, scored a consolation try from an extended buildup 90 seconds from fulltime.

Bulls 39 (Pierre Spies, Zane Kirchner, Fourie du Preez tries, Morne Steyn 6 penalties, 3 conversions), Canterbury Crusaders 24 (Richie McCaw, Sean Maitland, Sam Whitelock tries; Dan Carter penalty, 3 conversions). HT: 23-10.

- NZPA

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