A couple of sleeps removed from the 2018 decider, the AOR team debates (with bias!) which final ranks as the best in Super Rugby history.
Zelím Nel – 2007 (Kings Park): Sharks 19-20 Bulls
“Where is Habana, has he been replaced?” Hugh Bladen wondered out loud as the game clock ticked into the 81st minute. “No, he’s down the right wing is Habana.”
Three phases later, Danie Thiart (who went on to play 77 matches for Perpignan) lost the ball in a tackle in the right tram and the Sharks came away with it. Referee Steve Walsh didn’t see the knock on, and none of the officials saw how the Bulls somehow got the ball back in the morass of bodies at that breakdown.
“I don’t know how the Bulls got it back…” mused Bladen.
The ball went wide left where a jinking Akona Ndugane was grounded deep in the 22. Then Heini Adams, who had replaced Fourie du Preez in the 79th minute, collected the ball from a tackled Derick Hougaard, and floated it right with a long pass to Habana.
The Bulls finisher swerved inside, evading no less than seven over-chasing Sharks, before beating JP Pietersen in a sprint to the line for a thrilling try that (after Hougaard’s conversion) clinched the match, the final and South Africa’s first Super Rugby title. It doesn’t get any better than that!
The Bulls had come back from a 14-10 halftime deficit to win the first all-SA Super Rugby final. The showpiece event was made more important in the context of it taking place in a World Cup year (with Bok spots on the line) and in the aftermath of what had been a disappointing 2006 season for South Africa.
Pietersen (12) and Habana (8) were Super Rugby’s leading try-scorers, and the match featured heavyweight showdowns across the park – Ruan Pienaar v Fourie du Preez, Johan Ackermann and Johann Muller v Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield, John Smit v Gary Botha, and AJ Venter and Ryan Kankowski v Wikus van Heerden and Pierre Spies.
Tank Lanning – 2009 (Loftus): Bulls 61-17 Chiefs
For the phenomenal pre-match vibe, and breaking of new ground in SA, the 2010 final between the Bulls and Stormers at the Orlando Stadium (Loftus was being used as a Soccer World venue) is a contender. But the match was a bit of a flop, with much of the focus being on referee Craig Joubert’s handling of the game.
For pure excitement value, Bryan Habana’s last-second burgling of the trophy from the bungling Sharks – in their home town nogal – in 2007 is a no-brainer.
But for selfish reasons, I am going with a final some deem to be the WORST ever!
Thanks to some classy footwork, Stephen Donald set up Lelia Masaga for the opening try in the 2009 final to give the Chiefs a 7-0 lead at Loftus. But that was that from the visitors as the Bulls went on to score 34 points before halftime to end the contest.
It rained tries, though! Fourie Du Preez and Bryan Habana bagged two each, while Victor Matfield, Wynand Olivier, Pierre Spies, and Danie Rossouw also troubled the scorers. Morne Steyn slotted a drop goal for fun.
It remains the highest winning score in a final, and the biggest winning margin. And proved once and for all to the Kiwis how ridiculously tough it is to travel and win in Super Rugby.
Played at the end of May, rather than early August (ahem, SANZAAR!), at a time before even Hatfield was the in-spot for pre-match entertainment, in the space now dedicated to Loftus Park, a myriad of pop-up bars and restaurants had been erected, making the stadium precinct one massive beer festival/market/fun fair.
And as a group (yep, people travelled to finals in those days), the Cheerful Chunkies enjoyed a most splendiferous tour!
Did the guys nail it? Let us know where you were on the day of your favourite Super Rugby final!