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WELLINGTON - The Super 14 final between South Africa's Bulls and New Zealand's Waikato Chiefs at Loftus Versfeld next Saturday will provide a tantalising match up between two contrasting styles.
The Bulls, winners in 2007, used 21 points from the boot of Morne Steyn - including a record four drop goals - to kick last year's champions the Canterbury Crusaders into submission 36-23 at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
Down 20-7 in the first half, the Bulls went back to their gameplan of using their massive pack to keep play tight, with the educated boot of Steyn pinning the Crusaders back inside their own half and taking the points when offered.
While they scored two tries through flying wingers Bryan Habana and Akona Ndungane and another from rampaging number eight Pierre Spies, the fact that Steyn slotted four drop goals highlighted their patience and ability to grind down opposition.
The Chiefs, however, showcased their explosive try-scoring with the match winner by captain Mils Muliaina ending a sweeping counterattacking effort from more than 60m out in their 14-10 victory over the Wellington Hurricanes at Waikato Stadium.
Muliaina's try came from a poor kick by Hurricanes flyhalf Willie Ripia, allowing Sitiveni Sivivatu to run into open space and feed scrumhalf Toby Morland, who then turned the ball back inside to Muliaina.
The Chiefs then produced an enveloping defensive effort to hold out the Hurricanes in a nail-biting final 15 minutes at Waikato Stadium with the stadium shrouded in thick fog.
But the New Zealand side is unlikely to get many counterattacking opportunities from the Bulls.
The South Africans will undoubtedly kick the ball for touch as deep inside the Chiefs half as possible, with world-class locks Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha ready to attack the New Zealanders' lineout.
The Chiefs scrum has improved as the competition has progressed and, while they lost cornerstone tighthead Ben May before the semifinals, the aggressive Sona Taumalolo has proved a more than adequate replacement.
While the Chiefs produced an outstanding presence at the breakdown against the Hurricanes, All Blacks flanker Liam Messam is starting to show signs of wear and tear, and the physical Bulls will undoubtedly target him at the rucks.
The Chiefs, who lost their first three games this season before winning nine of their final 10, received mixed news about two of their All Blacks yesterday. Winger Sivivatu has been ruled out after dislocating a shoulder during the second half of the semifinal.
Centre Richard Kahui missed the match with a calf injury but was included in the 24-man squad that leaves for Pretoria today. - Reuters