A brief his­tory of pro­fes­sional rugby

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Su­per 10

Prior to the pro­fes­sional Su­per Rugby com­pe­ti­tion, North­ern Transvaal com­peted in the Su­per 10, which was a tour­na­ment fea­tur­ing ten teams from Aus­tralia, New Zealand, South Africa, Tonga and Western Samoa, which ran from 1993 to 1995. The top three teams from the pre­vi­ous Cur­rie Cup sea­son qual­i­fied for each of the Su­per 10 tour­na­ments.

North­ern Transvaal com­peted in the 1993 sea­son, where they were grouped in Pool B along­side Transvaal, New South Wales, North Har­bour and Waikato. Transvaal fin­ished at the top of the pool, with North­ern Transvaal fin­ish­ing third, be­hind New South Wales. North­ern Transvaal did not qual­ify for the Su­per 10 (south­ern hemi­sphere com­pe­ti­tion) in the 1994 Su­per 10 or 1995 sea­son.

Su­per 12

Af­ter rugby union went pro­fes­sional, the Su­per 10 tour­na­ment was re­struc­tured and be­came the Su­per 12, to be played by teams from Aus­tralia, New Zealand and South Africa. Both Aus­tralia and New Zealand adopted new fran­chise mod­els for their teams, whereas South Africa chose to use the Cur­rie Cup to de­cide what teams were to be pro­moted in the Su­per 12 each sea­son.

Com­pet­ing in the inau­gu­ral Su­per 12 sea­son of 1996, North­ern Transvaal were one of the 12 teams. The side won eight of their 11 games and fin­ished third on the ta­ble – be­hind only Auck­land and Queens­land. Jan­nie Kruger fin­ished the sea­son in the top three lead­ing point-scor­ers, be­hind only Matthew Burke and John Eales. The side was how­ever soundly beaten in a semi-fi­nal by the Auck­land Blues, with the fi­nal score be­ing 48 points to 11. The game was played at Eden Park in Auck­land.

Af­ter their fairly suc­cess­ful per­for­mance in the open­ing com­pe­ti­tion, the sub­se­quent com­pe­ti­tion of 1997 saw them with three wins and three draws from 11 games. They fin­ished at eighth. Fol­low­ing the 1997 sea­son, South Africa adopted a sim­i­lar fran­chise sys­tem to that of Aus­tralia and New Zealand, abol­ish­ing the Cur­rie Cup pro­mo­tion sys­tem in favour of cre­at­ing new fran­chises.

The Bulls were formed as one of the four new teams. They did not make the semis in the 1998 sea­son. They were con­sid­ered one of the worst teams in the Su­per 12 com­pe­ti­tion, fin­ish­ing last or sec­ond to last for five con­sec­u­tive sea­sons from 1998–2003. In 2002, they be­came the first team ever to go through an en­tire Su­per Rugby sea­son with­out win­ning a sin­gle game. This record re­mained un­til the Lions re­peated it dur­ing the 2010 sea­son. Af­ter fin­ish­ing fourth in the inau­gu­ral com­pe­ti­tion, they didn’t make the semis again un­til the years 2003.

The Bulls fin­ished in 6th place in both 2003 and 2004, though still miss­ing out on a fi­nals po­si­tion. They equalled their 1996 per­for­mance in 2005; al­though there was a very poor start to the sea­son, it was fol­lowed by six straight wins to earn them a semi-fi­nal berth, where they were de­feated by the New South Wales Waratahs. Bryan Ha­bana fin­ished in the top three try-scor­ers by the end of the sea­son, and was short-listed for IRB player of the year.

Su­per 14

In 2006, the Su­per 12 be­came the Su­per 14, with the ad­di­tion of two new fran­chises, the Chee­tahs and the Western Force. By the last round of the 2006 sea­son, the Bulls, along with the Brumbies and Sharks were all in con­tention to take the fourth and fi­nal po­si­tion on the lad­der to make the semi-fi­nals. Af­ter the Brumbies were de­feated 33 to 3 by the Cru­saders, the Bulls or Sharks could math­e­mat­i­cally take the fourth spot. The Bulls de­feated the Storm­ers at New­lands in Cape Town 43 points to 10, which en­sured they went through to the semi-fi­nals. The Bulls trav­elled to Christchurch where they were de­feated 35 to 15 at Jade Sta­dium and knocked out of the fi­nals.

The Bulls lost their first game of the 2007 Su­per 14 sea­son, go­ing down to the Sharks in Dur­ban 17 points to 3. En­ter­ing week 14, the last round of the reg­u­lar sea­son, the Bulls were chas­ing an un­likely 72-point win over the Queens­land Reds in or­der to move into sec­ond place and get a home semi-fi­nal At Lof­tus, the Bulls de­feated the Reds 92 points to 3, with the 89-point mar­gin of vic­tory set­ting a new Su­per rugby record. The Bulls ran in 13 tries with four play­ers get­ting dou­bles and Der­ick Hougaard kick­ing 11 con­ver­sions. The Sharks fin­ished first, so it be­came the first time that both home venues in the semi-fi­nals were in South Africa.

The Bulls de­feated the Cru­saders in their semi-fi­nal by 27 points to 12, with Der­ick Hougaard kick­ing eight penal­ties and a drop-goal. The Sharks en­sured a home-fi­nal in the 2007 Su­per 14-com­pe­ti­tion by de­feat­ing the Blues with a score­line of 34–18.

When the Bulls met the Sharks in the Su­per 14 fi­nal at the Absa Sta­dium in Dur­ban the match turned out to be a tight, ner­vous af­fair with the Bulls ini­tially be­ing guilty of in­dis­ci­pline and mak­ing a lot of mis­takes. The Sharks car­ried a 14–10 ad­van­tage into half-time af­ter a JP Pi­etersen try can­celled out one from Pierre Spies. The sec­ond half of the match was just as nail-bit­ing, with the Bulls gain­ing the as­cen­dancy in the match, but fail­ing to turn their ris­ing amount of pos­ses­sion into points. A Der­ick Hougaard penalty closed the gap to 14–13, af­ter which the Bulls made sev­eral on­slaughts on the Sharks line, only to lose the ball at crit­i­cal stages. The match looked to be all but over for the Bulls when Al­bert van den Berg barged over the line for a Sharks try two min­utes from full-time to stretch their lead to six points. How­ever, Fran­cois Steyn failed with the con­ver­sion at­tempt, and the Bulls restarted with barely sec­onds on the clock. Af­ter re­gain­ing the ball from the kick-off, play went through sev­eral phases be­fore Bryan Ha­bana re­ceived the ball on the right wing. He cut in­field and scored the most dra­matic of match win­ning tries, more than a minute af­ter of­fi­cial play. The try was con­verted by Der­ick Hougaard and the Bulls won the match by 20 points to 19. In 2009 the Bulls again won the su­per 14, de­feat­ing the Chiefs 61 – 17 in the fi­nal in Pre­to­ria.

In 2010 the Bulls again fin­ished top of the log by beat­ing the Cru­saders in a home semi fi­nal to se­cure a home fi­nal, played in Soweto. The Storm­ers had beaten the Waratahs at home and would face off with the Bulls in the fi­nal. The Bulls won the fi­nal once again in dra­matic style when Fran­cois Hougaard side stepped the Storm­ers full­back Joe Petersen to score an im­pres­sive try.

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