And then there were four, one of which – the three-time champion Vodacom Bulls – will fly the South African flag in this weekend’s Vodacom Super Rugby semi-finals.
The Vodacom Bulls host the two-time champion Brumbies from Australia, coached by former Springbok mentor Jake White, in the second Vodacom Super Rugby semi-final for 2013 at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Saturday afternoon.
In the first of Saturday’s two knock-out matches, the Crusaders will contest their 12th consecutive semi-final when they travel to Hamilton to take on the defending champion Chiefs.
For White, whose team beat the Toyota Cheetahs in a Qualifier last Sunday, it will be a homecoming of sorts. Apart from coaching the Springboks in four Tests at Loftus between 2004 and 2007, he was also seconded to the Vodacom Bulls as assistant coach way back in 1999.
Ironically, that was also the year when the Brumbies scored their biggest ever win over the Vodacom Bulls – and their joint-biggest Vodacom Super Rugby victory to date – when they beat the team from Pretoria by 73-9 in Canberra.
Vodacom Bulls v Brumbies
The two teams in action in the second semi-final at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday dominated Vodacom Super Rugby for large chunks of the previous decade.
Between the Vodacom Bulls and the Brumbies, they won five titles between 2001 and 2010 – three to the side from Pretoria and two to the team from Canberra. The other five went to the Crusaders (four) and Blues (one).
The Brumbies were dominant between 2000 and 2004, winning the Super 12 title twice and finishing runners-up twice (they also lost in the final in 1997).
Between 2007 and 2010 however, it was the time of the Vodacom Bulls to rule – they won all three their titles in this time. One of these victories, against the Chiefs in Pretoria in 2009, ended in a record-win of 61-17, which is still the biggest win in any Vodacom Super Rugby final, dating back to 1996.
And boasting an impressive record at Loftus Versfeld this year, where they’ve not yet lost in 2013, the smart money is probably on the Vodacom Bulls to win their fourth semi-final this weekend.
But the Brumbies have done well against South African opposition this season – they’ve won three of their five matches against teams from the Republic (including a close 23-20 win over the Vodacom Bulls in Canberra), lost one and drew one.
Although their record in South Africa is not that hot – with a winning percentage of only 36.8% the Brumbies have the worst record in the Republic of any of the eight “original” Australasian teams, with the Crusaders’ 50% the best – it looks much better when they’ve taken on the Vodacom Bulls away from Canberra.
Playing in South Africa over the years, the Brumbies have won 14 out of their 38 matches (one was drawn), but in their last six encounters on this side of the Indian Ocean, they’ve only won twice.
In seven visits to Pretoria (and once in Brakpan), the Brumbies have won 37.5% of their matches against the Vodacom Bulls franchise. Of the eight original overseas teams, only the Hurricanes (50%) and the Highlanders (44.4%) have a better record against the three-time champions in South Africa.
The Brumbies have lost their last three matches against the Vodacom Bulls at Loftus Versfeld – their last win in Pretoria was in 2006, by 27-21 – but in total they’ve won three out of nine, dating back to their first visit in 1996, when Northern Transvaal, as the team Bulls were still called back in the day before franchises, won 23-10.
The Vodacom Bulls will be hoping that home ground advantage will give them a boost on Saturday – after all, they have won all six their home play-off matches before.
“We have worked hard to put ourselves in a position where we could host a semi-final at home and achieved that,” said Vodacom Bulls coach Frans Ludeke. “We cannot allow all that effort to go to waste on Saturday.
“We certainly respect the Brumbies as an opponent, but this match will be about us and our ability and drive to make them play the game at our tempo and to our game plan. For that we will need to be accurate and execute the big plays well.”
Vodacom Bulls captain, Dewald Potgieter, encouraged the home supporters to help them over the line.
“We have great fans and we love doing well in front of them,” said Potgieter. “It is going to be a game of margins on Saturday and if we have our support base behind us, we will be able to edge ahead.
“We have to play the right type of rugby at the right times in the match and I am confident of that. We have experience in play-offs and we have big game players, so we will be ready.”
It’s been nine years since the Brumbies last played in a Super Rugby final and that will be a driving factor for them.
“The Bulls present us with a huge challenge this weekend. We know they will play through their forwards and use Morne [Steyn] to finish with points,” said Brumbies coach Jake White.
“They have a good record here at Loftus and for our players to experience running on in front of a full house of more than 50,000 people will be fantastic.
“They are a typical South African side, very big and physical with some quality finishers out wide so it’s up to our players to combat that with our own game.”
• In a change to the match officials for this encounter, Jonathan Kaplan and Marius Jonker have been appointed as the Assistant Referees, with Jaco Peyper appointed to Referee the playoff match between the Southern Kings and the MTN Lions in Port Elizabeth.
The teams are:
Vodacom Bulls: Zane Kirchner, Akona Ndungane, JJ Engelbrecht, Jan Serfontein, Bjorn Basson, Morné Steyn, Francois Hougaard, Dewald Potgieter (captain), Jacques Potgieter, Deon Stegmann, Grant Hattingh, Flip van der Merwe, Werner Kruger, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Dean Greyling. Replacements: Callie Visagie, Frik Kirsten, Morné Mellett, Paul Willemse, Jono Ross, Jano Vermaak, Jürgen Visser.
Brumbies: Jesse Mogg, Henry Speight, Tevita Kuridrani, Christian Lealiifano, Clyde Rathbone, Matt Toomua, Nic White, Ben Mowen (captain), George Smith, Peter Kimlin, Scott Fardy, Sam Carter, Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore, Scott Sio. Replacements: Siliva Siliva, Ruan Smith, Fotu Auelua, Colby Faingaa, Ian Prior, Andrew Smith, Joseph Tomane.
Head to head (since 1998): Vodacom Bulls won 6, Brumbies won 9. Vodacom Bulls scored 399 (43 tries) and conceded 470 (60 tries). Average score: 31-27 to the Brumbies.
Previous results (home team mentioned first):
30 March 2013: Brumbies 23 Vodacom Bulls 20
21 April 2012: Vodacom Bulls 36 Brumbies 34
20 February 2010: Vodacom Bulls 50 Brumbies 32
17 April 2009: Brumbies 32 Vodacom Bulls 31
9 May 2008: Vodacom Bulls 28 Brumbies 17
3 March 2007: Brumbies 7 Vodacom Bulls 19
17 February 2006: Vodacom Bulls 21 Brumbies 27
4 March 2005: Brumbies 21 Vodacom Bulls 19
13 March 2004: Vodacom Bulls 32 Brumbies 21
22 March 2003: Brumbies 64 Vodacom Bulls 26
16 March 2002: Vodacom Bulls 35 Brumbies 45
17 March 2001: Brumbies 39 Vodacom Bulls 30
25 March 2000: Vodacom Bulls 19 Brumbies 28
27 March 1999: Brumbies 73 Vodacom Bulls 9
28 March 1998: Vodacom Bulls 24 Brumbies 7
Vodacom Bulls in play-off matches:
21 July 2012: Lost to Crusaders 13-28 (Qualifier – Christchurch)
29 May 2010: Beat DHL Stormers 25-17 (Final – Soweto)
22 May 2010: Beat Crusaders 39-24 (Semi-final – Soweto)
30 May 2009: Beat Chiefs 61-17 (Final – Pretoria)
23 May 2009: Beat Crusaders 36-23 (Semi-final – Pretoria)
19 May 2007: Beat The Sharks 20-19 (Final – Durban)
12 May 2007: Beat Crusaders 27-12 (Semi-final – Pretoria)
20 May 2006: Lost to Crusaders 15-35 (Semi-final – Christchurch)
21 May 2005: Lost to Waratahs 13-23 (Semi-final – Sydney)
19 May 1996: Northern Transvaal lost to Blues 11-48 (Semi-final – Auckland)
Played 10 Won 6 Lost 4
Brumbies in play-off matches:
21 July 2013: Beat Toyota Cheetahs 15-13 (Qualifier – Canberra)
22 May 2004: Beat Crusaders 47-38 (Final – Canberra)
15 May 2004: Beat Chiefs 32-17 (SF - Canberra)
17 May 2003: Lost to Blues 21-42 (SF – Auckland)
25 May 2002: Lost to Crusaders 13-31 (Final – Christchurch)
18 May 2002: Beat Waratahs 51-10 (SF – Sydney)
26 May 2001: Beat The Sharks 36-6 (Final – Canberra)
19 May 2001: Beat Reds 30-6 (SF – Canberra)
27 May 2000: Lost to Crusaders 19-20 (Final – Canberra)
20 May 2000: Beat Cats 28-5 (SF – Canberra)
31 May 1997: Lost to Blues 7-23 (Final – Auckland)
24 May 1997: Beat Hurricanes 33-20 (SF – Canberra)
Played 12 Won 8 Lost 4
Vodacom Bulls v Brumbies
Date: Saturday, 27 July 2013
SA Time: 17h05
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria, South Africa
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa), Marius Jonker (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)
Chiefs v Crusaders
Date: Saturday 27 July, 2013
Kick-off: 09h35 (SA time)
Venue: Waikato Stadium, Hamilton, New Zealand
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Assistant referees: Glen Jackson (New Zealand), Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)
Note: If the scores are tied at fulltime in any match during the Finals Series, the following will apply until a winner is found:
a. Extra Time – after a five minute rest period, extra time is played in two 10 minute periods with a two minute halftime.
b. Sudden Death – if the match is still tied at the end of extra time, an up to 10 minute sudden death period is played after another five minute rest period and the first team to score (by a penalty goal, drop-goal or try) will be the winner.
c. Kicking Competition – if the match is still tied at the end of sudden death, the Referee will conduct a place kicking competition to determine the winner of the match.
Teams for the first Vodacom Super Rugby Play-off match between the Southern Kings and the MTN Lions in Port Elizabeth:
Southern Kings: SP Marais, Hadleigh Parkes, Ronnie Cooke, Shane Gates, Marcello Sampson, Demetri Catrakilis, Shaun Venter, Jacques Engelbrecht, Wimpie van der Walt, Cornell du Preez, Darron Nell (captain), David Bulbring, Kevin Buys, Bandise Maku, Schalk Ferreira. Replacements: Charl du Plessis, Hannes Franklin, Steven Sykes, Devin Oosthuizen, Nicolas Vergallo, George Whitehead, Waylon Murray.
MTN Lions: Ruan Combrink, Antony Volmink, Stokkies Hanekom, Dylan des Fountain, Deon van Rensburg, Elton Jantjies, Michael Bondesio, Warren Whiteley, Derick Minnie, Jaco Kriel, Franco van der Merwe, Hendrik Roodt, Julian Redelinghuys, Martin Bezuidenhout, JC Janse van Rensburg (captain). Replacements: Robbie Coetzee, Martin Dreyer, Willie Britz, Warwick Tecklenburg, Ross Cronjé, Marnitz Boshoff, Chryzander Botha.
Date: Friday, 26 July
Venue: Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jason Jaftha (South Africa), Sindile Mayende (South Africa)
TMO: Deon van Blommestein (South Africa)
The team who will play in Vodacom Super Rugby 2014 will be determined as follows:
• The log point format used in these matches, as stipulated in paragraph 8 of Section 2 of “Log Points Format” of the SARU Rules of the Competition, will apply. After completion of the play-off matches, the team with the most log points accumulated during these two matches will participate in Vodacom Super Rugby 2014.
• In the event of an equal number of log points accumulated in the two matches, the winner will be determined as follows:
o the best nett points difference i.e. points for minus points against in the two (2) matches, and if equal;
o the team who scored the most tries in the two (2) matches, and if equal;
o the status quo will remain.