Leinster’s season comes up short yet again as Bulls battle through to final

Sergeal Petersen’s two tries key as South African side dominate through the boot and in the pack

Bulls' Embrose Papier offloads as he is tackled by Leinster's Robbie Henshaw during the BKT United Rugby Championship semi-final at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria. Photograph: Christiaan Kotze/Inpho/Steve Haag Sports
URC semi-final: Bulls 25 Leinster 20

For the third year in a row Leinster ended their season empty-handed when they fell short in the altitude of Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria. It took a pickpocket catch in the air from Sergeal Petersen on 66 minutes just as Ciarán Frawley appeared to have the ball in his hand, the Bulls winger running in to make it 25-20 from which Leinster could not recover.

In truth the Bulls were good for their win, especially at the end as Leinster pressed and took the ball through 23 phases before a double hit on Caelan Doris turned it over and the Bulls, using an excellent defence, safely ran down the clock.

“It was very disappointing. We played a very good Bulls side,” said Josh van der Flier. “It’s always very fine margins. There wasn’t much in it. It could have gone either way right up to the end. Credit to the Bulls they played very well. Johan [Goosen] kicked very, very well so credit to him.”

From the beginning, the Bulls opted to test Leinster under high balls and crossfield kicks from Willie le Roux and outhalf Goosen, their tactics spelling out from early on and throughout the opening 40 minutes the variety of play they were offering.


Garry Ringrose, back for the first time since January, showed his worth during this time with three big tackles as the Bulls probed in behind the rushing Leinster players.

It was a tough opening period for Leinster with the South African kicking keeping them honest out wide, Jordan Larmour forced into high ball contention a number of times. Goosen even attempted a drop goal from the halfway line to get on the scoreboard first. It drifted just wide before the Bulls thought they were in on the left for the first try.

Replays, however, showed Marco van Staden clearly taking out Ross Byrne off the ball and the try was disallowed.

Leinster hadn’t threatened in the first quarter and missed a chance to take the lead when Byrne’s penalty from the halfway line did not land. Then poor discipline from right wing Petersen saw him go to the bin for a deliberate knock-on as Leinster swept forward.

A kick for their first attacking lineout on 24 minutes with a man up finally yielded the breakthrough for Leinster with Byrne shunting the ball left after the fifth phase off the set piece, James Lowe characteristically diving into the corner for Byrne to convert for a 7-0 lead.

Johan Goosen is cheered on by David Kriel as he goes in for the first Bulls try during the BKT United Rugby Championship semi-final at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria. Photograph: Deon van der Merwe/Inpho/Steve Haag Sports

But the home side continued their pattern of quick passing and probing Leinster with kicks. Their scrum was also a weapon. A few minutes later the Bulls were punching into the Leinster posts five metres out and with Leinster stretched, a beautiful running line from Goosen against the grain, allowed him knife through.

He converted for 7-7 before a scrum penalty awarded at the hooter allowed Goosen kick the Bulls to a 10-7 half-time lead. The danger sign for Leinster was they didn’t make any ground with Petersen in the bin and when they needed to press on just after half-time it was the winger who stung.

Centre Harold Voster booted forward and in the foot race it was Petersen who got there first, his try converted by Goosen to make it 17-7.

But Leinster bravely pushed forward and settled into the Bulls’ 22. When they earned an offside penalty Dan Sheehan opted to tap. It was a good call with Doris breaking through and Byrne converting for 17-14.

A sometimes frantic second half saw referee Sam Grove-White tell both captains to calm down players after a number of late hits. The kickers came into play and both sides emptied their benches. Byrne kicked, then Goosen, then Byrne again to a chorus of booing. At 20-20 on 64 minutes, it was difficult to say which way the game would break until Petersen struck and plucked the ball from Frawley’s arms, controlled it and sped in for the try.

It was a crushing blow from which Leinster could not recover, the match ending when Goosen, the game’s most influential player, kicked the ball dead moments after the final hooter.

SCORING SEQUENCE – 24 mins: J Lowe try, R Byrne con 0-7; 30: J Goosen try, Goosen con 7-7; 40: Goosen pen 10-7. Half-time 10-7. 42: S Petersen try, Goosen con 17-7; 49: C Doris try, Byrne con 17-14; 59: Byrne pen 17-17; 61: Goosen pen 20-17; 64: Byrne pen 20-20; 66: Petersen try 25-20;

BULLS: Willie Le Roux; Sergeal Petersen, David Kriel, Harold Vorster, Devon Williams; Johan Goosen, Embrose Papier; Gerhard Steenekamp, Johan Grobbelaar, Wilco Louw; Ruan Vermaak, Ruan Nortje (capt); Marco Van Staden, Elrigh Louw, Cameron Hanekom.

Replacements: Akker van der Merwe for Grobbelar (40 mins); Cornel Smit for Le Roux (56); Simphiwe Matanzima for Steenekamp, Francois Klopper for Wilco Louw, Nizaam Carr for Van Staden (all 61); Reinhardt Ludwig for Vermaak (66).

Yellow card: S Petersen (23 mins).

LEINSTER: Jimmy O’Brien; Jordan Larmour, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe; Ross Byrne, Jamison Gibson-Park; Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan, Tadhg Furlong; Joe McCarthy, James Ryan (capt); Ryan Baird, Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris.

Replacements: Rónan Kelleher for Sheehan, Michael Ala’alatoa for Furlong, Ciarán Frawley for O’Brien (all 51 mins); Luke McGrath for Gibson-Park (56); Jack Conan for Van der Flier (62); Ross Molony for Ryan, Jamie Osborne for Ringrose (both 68); Cian Healy for Porter (73).

Referee: S Grove-White (SRU).

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times