* Holders keep nerve to tame Crusaders in Soweto
* Superb du Preez try kills off New Zealanders
* Bulls face Stormers in all-South African final (adds quotes)
By Ken Borland
SOWETO, South Africa, May 22 (Reuters) - The Bulls kept their nerve to beat a plucky Crusaders side 39-24 in their Super 14 semi-final on Saturday backed by an enthusiastic crowd in the first top-class rugby match played in Soweto.
They will play the Stormers in an all-South African showdown next Saturday, which will again be hosted at the Orlando Stadium in the black township, after they beat Australia’s New South Wales Waratahs 25-6 at Newlands in the second semi-final.
The Bulls brilliant scrumhalf Fourie du Preez settled any nerves when his superb second-half try, breaking blind behind a retreating scrum, gave them a 33-17 lead with 15 minutes left.
Flyhalf Morne Steyn was also immaculate with the boot, missing just one of his kicks at goal as he succeeded with three conversions and six penalties.
The tactical kicking of Du Preez, Steyn and fullback Zane Kirchner was a major part of the Bulls success and the Crusaders always looked in danger when the high ball went up.
“The kicks were accurate, the chasers were there and we had the numbers to capitalise,” said Bulls coach Frans Ludeke.
Crusaders captain Richie McCaw and coach Todd Blackadder agreed with Ludeke that the Bulls’ game plan worked perfectly.
“You’ve got to take those balls, it was obvious that sort of tactic to put us under pressure was going to be there,” said McCaw. “It’s those little mistakes in your own half that you cannot afford. A good team like the Bulls will make you pay.”
Blackadder added: “The Bulls are a top-class side, they do the basics really well, they’re effective and ruthless.”
The Orlando stadium was a sea of blue as over 35,000 watched the holders withstand a spirited effort by the Crusaders.
They had returned to South Africa from New Zealand just a week after leaving following their last round-robin game.
Despite traffic problems causing many fans to arrive after kick-off, the Bulls’ support, including that of some locals, and loud blowing of plastic trumpets (vuvuzelas) lifted the South Africanss, whose ferocity ensured they were always in front.
The Bulls made the perfect start when they won turnover ball in the third minute, hung on to it through several phases and eighth man Pierre Spies, a massive force on the day, proved impossible to stop as he steamed over the tryline.
The Crusaders’ shakiness under the high ball almost saw them concede another try two minutes later but lock Danie Rossouw knocked the ball on in the tackle over the tryline.
However, another dropped up-and-under in the ninth minute led to a penalty by Steyn who made the score 10-0.
The seven-times champions are an adaptable, resilient team, though, and captain Richie McCaw scored a try two minutes later after a three-man rolling maul was poorly defended by the Bulls.
The Crusaders then made a hash of another high ball in the 15th minute, which rebounded into their own 22 with Kirchner dotting down in a scramble for it.
A ferocious run by loosehead prop Gurthro Steenkamp drew a shoulder charge by Crusaders tighthead Ben Franks, Steyn kicking the penalty to lift the Bulls into a 20-7 lead.
The Bulls were struggling in the scrums, however, and tighthead Werner Kruger was penalised, allowing Dan Carter to kick a penalty and make the score 20-10.
The All Black flyhalf had an uncertain match with the boot, however, with just a 50 percent success rate and missed another penalty soon after.
Steyn, on the other hand, kicked a phenomenal penalty six metres inside his own half and 10 metres from the touchline to make the halftime score 23-10.
The Crusaders ensured the start of the second half would be tense when a poor Bulls scrum gave them excellent attacking ball inside the 22, wing Sean Maitland scooting over for the try.
But the Crusaders went off the boil in the final quarter, altitude and all the travelling seemingly catching up with them, and Du Preez seized his chance for the game-breaking moment.
“We’d eked out a nine-point lead up till then but big players come through in the big games,” said Bulls captain Victor Matfield. “Fourie has such a big personality and he comes through when things get tight. That try put us well in front.”
The Bulls’ scrum also lifted themselves to finish the game on top, earning two easy penalties for Steyn which he converted to finish with 24 points.
Crusaders lock Sam Whitelock grabbed a consolation try when he went over in the corner with two minutes remaining.
Editing by Ken Ferris; To query or comment on this story email firstname.lastname@example.org