x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Chiefs take hat off to brilliant Bulls

One word, captured in the Waikato Chiefs' coach Ian Foster's post-match summation, captured the essence of the remarkable Super 14 triumph by the Pretoria Bulls: Intensity.

One word, captured in the Waikato Chiefs' coach Ian Foster's post-match summation, captured the essence of Saturday's remarkable Super 14 triumph by South Africa's Pretoria Bulls. The Bulls rattled up a record 61-17 score - the biggest win in a Super rugby final - and all Foster could do was marvel at the champion's "intensity". "We're hurt, I can't deny that," he said. "But the boys will learn from this, particularly about the intensity that it takes to play in major finals like this."

Whereas South African teams historically do no more than enough to secure victory, the Bulls have gone a step further in fortifying their legacy: they are ruthless from beginning to end and punish teams that don't bring their A game to proceedings. In Pretoria on Saturday, they started with a hiss and a roar and never relented. In winning their second Super 14 crown in three years, the Bulls have developed a powerful team brimming with international stars.

Midfielder Wynand Olivier was named man-of-the-match, but any of Dewald Potgieter, the tearaway flanker, Fourie du Preez, the most polished scrum-half on the planet, or Bakkies Botha, the formidable lock forward, could have taken the honour. It was Potgieter who perhaps best captured the ethic of the Bulls: "People ask me what the secret is and I tell them it's like 22 friends who come together on weekends and play their hearts out," he said.

With Loftus Versfeld awash in a sea of blue, the Bulls plundered eight tries, while the New Zealanders could manage just two. Victor Matfield, the Bulls captain, sympathised, believing any team that had to travel 14 hours at short notice to play at altitude would have it tough. "Of course it had an effect on them," he said. "Playing at home was a massive advantage for us. I've experienced playing high-pressure games away from home and it takes a special effort to win."

For Matfield, the turning point in their season came against the Sharks three weeks ago. The Bulls prevailed by a single point and secured their place at the top of the table, providing Matfield with the belief that they could win the tournament. "That was the moment we knew we could do it," he said. Frans Ludeke, the Bulls coach, who has long been cast as a journeyman, might have used the opportunity to nail his critics. Instead, he chose a more dignified response.

"It was never about me silencing the critics - that would be arrogant. This was about every-one involved and the people who worked hard and ground it out until we got this result." He ascribed his belief in empowering the players to something he had read in Robbie Deans: A Tribute to the Great Crusader, a book about the most successful coach in Super rugby. "He wrote that the Crusaders were a player-driven team because they took pride in what they were doing. It's a similar thing at the Bulls."

Foster conceded that while he expected the Bulls to play a game with width and tempo, the ferocity of their play had caught his team out. "The intensity they played with, particularly at the breakdown, was unbelievable," he said. "We were made to play catch-up rugby against a very experienced side. That's not ideal. They capitalised when we were pushing to get back into the game and taking risks. "In a strange way I'm still proud that we kept trying to play and close the deficit. This is a relatively new team and we now have the experience of playing in a major final

"The boys will get over this in time. But they know that they were beaten by an incredibly talented side this evening." sports@thenational.ae