Bulls masterful dissection of Leinster in Pretoria : Wade Cox

Loftus Versfeld Stadium
Loftus Versfeld Stadium

The surgeon stood resolute, her brow furrowed in concentration - the proposed surgery was a complex cardiac procedure, requiring access to the heart through a large incision in the chest.

The incision itself would stretch from the sternum to just above the navel, several inches long. It would need to be deep enough to reach the heart, but precise enough to minimise trauma to the surrounding tissues.

Commentators and pundits alike describe the Bulls as physical, direct, unimaginative even boring - but in Pretoria last night, there was one team that showed cerebral acuity, and it wasn't the team loaded with Irish internationals and with the largest budget in the URC competition. Perceptions rarely change.

But the semi-final at Loftus was all about the Bulls - a team that executed a quite brilliant game plan from the first minute to the 80th. Rarely in sport and rugby does a team play and execute strategy with such finesse, dexterity, mastery as the Bulls on Saturday night. Leinster’s rush defense was brutally exposed by the kicking of puppet masters Johan Goosen and Willie Le Roux. The Bulls kicked diagonally and short (behind the winger and shallower than the fullback). This forced Leinster’s fullback Jimmy O Brien to position himself flatter, cover space. But, then the Bulls kicked long, finding oceans of space in behind (including a 50/22), and ultimately dominated the territorial battle. Leinster’s and Jacques Nienaber's World Cup winning defense was finally dismantled and unlocked by the South Africans.

The Bulls seemed to dominate almost every facet of the game - the gain-line, breakdown and tackle. Cameron Hanekom was colossal, and at 22 years of age is set to take over the mantle from Duane Vermeulen. He was immense with ball in hand, won turnovers at the breakdown and was punishing in defense - an immense talent. But this performance wasn't about individuals - the collective was even better.

Just after the break, the Bulls finally managed to finish though some beautiful handling from Goosen and Williams, before Sergeal Petersen collected to score the first of his brace. It was again the accuracy and execution of the highest order and Leinster just didn't have answers.

And then, it was time for the highveld to do its job. Leinster fatigued, they took the ball through multiple phases, but it was lethargic, even pedestrian. Even the most casual of viewers would have been reminded of the Ireland semifinal against New Zealand in Paris. Leinster had run out of puff. And when the Bulls turned over the multiphase attack through a phenomenal hit on Irish international, Caelan Doris by Hanekom, the game was all but done.

Leinster had been undone by tactical nous and execution of the highest order. In the final minutes the surgeon began suturing the incision closed - each suture evenly spaced and perfectly aligned. And when Goosen kicked the ball in the 80th minute, the pride in the performance was palpable - the Bulls had disposed of a formidable opponent.

This URC semi-final as a spectacle was superior to any game I've seen his year. At times, I was in awe and marveled at the mesmerizing skill, speed and physicality. This is the premier rugby tournament in the world - and protecting it is a duty the stakeholders all now share.