A brief history of professional rugby
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.
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.
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.