The Vodacom Stormers suffered a heavy 43-10 defeat to the Bulls in their last Vodacom Super 14 match of the season at Newlands on Saturday.
The Bulls already enjoyed a healthy 26-3 lead at halftime and never looked in danger of losing this game.
They needed to win the game by 33 points to pip the Sharks for fourth place on the points’ table and the fourth semi-final berth.
After an intense and exhilarating 80 minutes that kept the big crowd spellbound the Bulls did exactly what they had to: they won by 33 points.
After 12 minutes of intense and physical battle the Stormers got a penalty within kicking range from the Bulls poles, but opted to go for possession.
They won the lineout, Schalk Burger and then Schalk Brits had a go, but referee Mark Lawrence penalised the Bulls again.
This time Stormers flyhalf Peter Grant took the three points on offer to hand his side the early ascendancy on the score board.
The Bulls riposte was brutally effective though. When a Joe Pietersen kick didn’t go out, the Bulls hoisted a high ball into the home team’s territory.
The Stormers failed to clear the ball and from the resulting scrum centre Wynand Olivier ran straight through the Stormers midfield to triumphantly score under the posts. Morne Steyn converted to make the score 7-3 for the visitors.
The Bulls suffered a setback in the 17th minute though when prop Danie Thiart was yellow-carded by Lawrence.
It was the Bulls, however, who scored again. They were quick to pounce on poor handling by the Stormers and try-poacher par excellence Brian Habana grabbed the loose ball to score close to the posts. Steyn extended the lead (14-3).
After a breathtaking two minutes of interaction from both sides the Bulls capitalised again on a mistake from the Stormers. This time Neil de Kock’s pass to Jean de Villiers was poor and JP Nel was on hand to say thank you very much for a five pointer.
With the score 19-3 the Bulls looked a good bet to achieve their goal. Springbok lock Bakkes Botha entered the fray in place of Francois van Schouwenburg in the 31st minute.
He was instrumental in the next try that brought up the bonus point after only 32 minutes, scored by Steyn. The flyhalf converted and his team enjoyed a healthy lead at 26-3.
The Stormers replaced Marius Joubert with Rayno Benjamin in the 33rd minute, with Jean de Villiers going to outside centre.
The Stormers piled on the pressure after that and after a lineout close to their try-line Bulls lock Victor Matfield faced the dreaded yellow card.
The Stormers, however, conceded a tighthead against a weakened Bulls pack and spurned a great attacking opportunity.
After halftime the Stormers had Conradie on at scrumhalf in place of De Kock.
The Stormers again drew first blood. From a set scrum wing Benjamin jumped into the line and fed De Villiers whose running angle wrong-footed the defenders.
There was no stopping the blonde Springbok and Grant converted to make the score 26-10.
The Bulls hit back via a Steyn penalty to edge ever closer to the magical 33 points.
The visitors extended their lead in the 56th minute when Wessel Roux scored after a ferocious rolling maul from the Bulls pack. Steyn converted to make the score 36-10.
The Bulls still needed seven points to qualify and it was Habana who got their hopes up. He showed his blistering pace when he outpaced Chumani Booi after a great stab through from Matfield.
He seemed to just got his hand to the ball, but Lawrence asked the Television Match Official for a decision.
After a good look the TMO awarded the try – much to the delight of the Bulls and their supporters. Steyn converted to make sure they have the points’ difference of 33.
It was jubilation for the Bulls and disappointment for the Stormers when referee Lawrence’s whistle signalled the end of the match.