News24.com | Grobbelaar and Coetzee score as Bulls lead Leinster at half-time in URC semi-final
Marcell Coetzee and Harold Vorster with Bulls teammates. (Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile/Gallo Images)
The Bulls needed every drop of blood and sweat, every sinew of muscle to stun overwhelming favourites Leinster in Dublin on Friday night and become the first team into the United Rugby Championship final.
The ball is now in the Stormers’ court to set up a dream final against the Bulls if they get past Ulster in their semi-final at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday (15:00).
Bulls director of rugby Jake White sat in the stands instead of the custom coaches’ box, where he had no walkie-talkie to bark at. It was as if he had constructed the victory in the week and was now watching the masterpiece play itself out.
And what a masterpiece performance it was – perhaps the greatest by a South African team on foreign soil.
The Bulls made life hell for Leinster at almost every juncture – the lineout, scrum and collisions, although they didn’t have things their own way.
It was scything Leinster attack versus dogged Bulls defence and the latter won the day. The Bulls will be primarily proud of their discipline and spirit under pressure, with the weight of the home fans screaming against them.
AS IT HAPPENED | Leinster vs Bulls
The game began with an early wake-up call when the hosts powered toward the Bulls try line within a minute of the start.
Leinster, who bossed possession and territory as expected at the start, scored soon after the early pressure, in the ninth minute through hooker Dan Sheehan.
Sheehan was rewarded after following the play all the way after Ross Byrne chipped behind the Bulls defence, catching out David Kriel at right wing, and scored from the loose-ball pick-up.
The visitors scooped themselves up from the floor and earned a penalty before applying their first spell of pressure on Leinster. Canan Moodie slipped a glorious chance to score but hooker Johan Grobbelaar quickly redeemed him after dotting down from the penalty advantage.
That first try settled the Bulls down and got them the ascendancy needed to grab the momentum that would quell a Leinster conquest.
Then, in the 25th minute, they struck another blow to the Leinster sternum through skipper Marcell Coetzee, who crashed over for their second try.
Leinster, with a groaning crowd on their backs, turned from lions to domestic felines in the face of Bulls relentless pressure in the tackle, lineout and scrums. Handling errors increased as did penalties against.
But they quickly answered back with some silky first-phase backline passing that led to Robbie Henshaw squeezing over the try line after a pick-and-go from the second phase.
The Bulls held onto their 17-14 lead into the break, thanks in no small part to Grobbelaar pilfering the Leinster breakdown with impunity. The only question coming out of the tunnel would be, could they do the same again and more in the second half?
The second half began with a Leinster handling error, which were uncharacteristically frequent in the game from the Irish league-stage leaders. But the hosts were bailed out by a generous turnover penalty without a clear release from referee Andrea Piardi.
Then it was Leinster’s turn to turn the screws but the Bulls also withstood the pressure for the moment, forcing a handling error before finally getting a scrum penalty, which they should have gotten plenty of in the first half but Piardi was blind to Andrew Porter’s indiscretions.
The Bulls, smelling a shock result, struck again through a penalty try after Leinster illegally stopped a stampeding lineout drive. The score-line read 24-14 with too much time to go, if you were a Bulls fan.
Before the game turned ugly, scuffles breaking out all over the place, the Bulls had a glorious chance to put Leinster on the canvass when Harold Vorster charged down but slipped as he chased the ball towards the try line.
The 63rd-minute Janko Swanepoel defensive lineout steal five metres from their own try line epitomised the Bulls’ spirit in the game – a never-say-die attitude and two fingers in the air to the partisan crowd.
The clock ticked agonisingly slow and Leinster used the slower pace of the game to compose themselves. With 10 minutes left, they struck through wing Rory O’Loughlin, who rounded off the backline move of the game.
But would it be a historic victory without a Morne Steyn penalty? Surely not. And the Springbok veteran did the necessary with a penalty that took the Bulls eight points ahead with less than five minutes to go.
Steyn’s kick meant Cian Healy’s 83rd-minute try was meaningless.
Leinster – (14) 26
Tries: Dan Sheehan, Robbie Henshaw, Rory O’Loughlin, Cian Healy
Conversions: Ross Byrne (2), Johnny Sexton
Bulls – (17) 27
Tries: Johan Grobbelaar, Marcell Coetzee, penalty try
Conversions: Chris Smith (2)
Penalties: Chris Smith, Morne Steyn