Grand Final preview.
The Bulls have got a stack in their favour here with the home ground advantage, a full strength line up, injuries to key Chiefs players and, most importantly in my opinion, 12 players from their championship 2007 side lining up. Experience plays a huge part in any Final and the Bulls have a massive edge in this department. Not only Super 14 Final experience but World Cup Final experience.
One thing I look for in semi finals is player reaction to the full time siren. Sides like the Chiefs, who have never played a final, jump around with glee and celebrate like they have won the tournament. Seasoned campaigners, like the Bulls, might allow themselves a raising of the arms or a quiet fist pump but they are fully aware the job is not complete. Very rarely, in any code of football, does a side with no finals experience beat a side with recent finals experience. The occasion becomes a bit too much for the less experienced first timers and they console themselves with the fact they did well to reach the final. The experienced side has no such thoughts in the back of their mind, knowing anything less than victory in the final is a failure.
For the second straight week the Bulls demonstrated championship qualities in coming from behind to win against quality opposition. Once again there was no panic, they remained composed, stuck to the tried and tested game plan, worked their way back in front and proceeded to control the game. The Crusaders had them on the rack at 7-20 ten minutes before half time but in the blink of an eye it was 27-20 and the Bulls had slipped into cruise control. Only very good sides can do that.
The Chiefs surprised me by reverting to their more expansive game in the first half against the Hurricanes and it paid dividends. Unfortunately, the man most responsible for the attacking inroads made and master of counter attack, Sivivatu, will not be a factor this week. His absence is critical and his combination with Muliaina will be sorely missed. Nonetheless, if the Chiefs are to have any chance they must go all out attack for the full 80 minutes. You simply will not beat the Bulls attempting to play a territory based game. Bulls fullback Kirchner will return kicks with interest and wings Ndungane and Habana are more than willing to run it back at you. The Chiefs defence has been terrific in recent weeks but defending field goals is near impossible, especially against someone who gets boot to ball as quickly as Morne Steyne does.
The Bulls have a clear advantage at the lineout through Botha, Matfield and Spies and I canít see the Chiefs getting the better of the Bulls at the scrum. Consequently the Chiefs must rely on breakdown and kick return possession. Through the likes of Masaga, Muliaina and Lauaki they have players capable of scoring with the barest scraps of ball but I donít think it will be enough. The Bulls will more than likely turn this into a slugfest and grind the Chiefs into the turf but theyíve shown they have plenty of gas of their own and can score long range tries. They should be too strong and with Steyne capable of dropping goals from anywhere inside the half he will keep them out of the Chiefs range.
The $1.35 H-H is too short but the $2.70 1-12 margin is attractive. Also think $17.00 for a Bulls drop goal being first score is worth a nibble and Iíd throw something on the Chiefs Masaga as first tryscorer at $12.00.