Sharks eager to shred Bulls in Super 14 final
It will indeed be an historic day on Saturday when South Africa host the Super 14 final for the first time with the Coastal Sharks and Northern Bulls contesting the honours in Durban.
Also, it is the first time in the country's history that the winner will come from South Africa. The Sharks are the only South African team to have competed in a final. They did so on two occasions against the Auckland Blues and ACT Brumbies respectively, but lost both matches.
The Sharks, who finished on top of the points table, qualified for Saturday's final after beating a gallant Blues outfit 34-18 in Durban, while the Bulls triumphed over the Canterbury Crusaders 27-12 in a hard-fought match in which neither side managed to score a try.
Dick Muir's Sharks owed their victory to the boot of Percy Montgomery and tries by Johann Muller, Butch James and Waylon Murray, while the Bulls' flyhalf Derick Hougaard scored all 27 of his team's points via eight penalties and a drop-goal.
Bulls' coach Heyneke Meyer was full of praise after his team managed to deny the Crusaders a try at a packed Loftus Versfeld.
The only other time this season the defending champions were unable to score a try was against the Lions at Ellis Park when the visitors went down 9-3.
"It was a big effort from my guys to keep the Crusaders out for 80 minutes. Our defensive team need all the credit. It was a special effort," said Meyer.
Meyer was understandably delighted with the performance of Hougaard, who has been overlooked by the South African selectors for the coming international season.
"It was a world-class performance from Derick," said Meyer.
Crusaders' coach Robbie Deans felt for the first time what it is like to lose in a semifinal.
"The Bulls are playing great rugby at the moment. They're particularly strong in defence, but they're also using plenty of initiative in attack.
"With the momentum they've built up over the last few weeks they're going to be very dangerous in the final, but the Sharks will have the home ground advantage behind them."
The Sharks' victory over the Aucklanders was the second for the South African team this season after Muir's men also triumphed in New Zealand in the earlier rounds of the competition.
The weekend's victory, however, is a lot sweeter as the Sharks will now host the final in Durban on Saturday. Muir said: "We've worked really hard in the last few seasons and, having ground out this win over the Blues, we're all feeling fantastic.
"The final's going to be a new challenge for all of us, but we're looking forward to it.
"I'm just really proud of the way my guys fought back after falling behinf the Blues in the early part of the second half. They really showed a lot of character to come back like that."
Sharks' lock Johann Muller, who was named man of the match in the semifinal, said he could not wait to take on the Bulls in the final. "All the guys have put in a tremendous amount of hard work." - Sapa-AFP