Super 14 signs off as Super 15 era begins

The Bulls won their third title, the Lions delivered the worst losing streak in the history of the competition and an Australian great retired as southern hemisphere bid farewell to the 14-team Super Rugby format.

The Bulls made certain of their place as the most successful side in the five seasons of the Super 14 with a third triumph, and second in a row, after beating the Stormers in an all-South African final.

The Pretoria-based team keep Super 14 trophy after the 25-17 win in Soweto – Melbourne Rebels join an expanded Super 15 next season, giving the tournament five clubs from each of the competing nations.

New Zealand’s Crusaders, with two wins, were the only other team to lift the trophy after the Super 14 evolved from the Super 12 competition in 2006.

Experience, a fearsome group of forwards and the points-scoring prowess of flyhalf Morne Steyn brought the Bulls their 2010 title.

“So many games this season we were dead and buried and special performances from individuals pulled us through,” Bulls coach Frans Ludeke said.

“But individuals play well because the team plays well. You are nobody if you don’t have the team.”

Ludeke’s team won 12 of 15 games, including every one at home where they extended their winning streak to 20.

Captain Victor Matfield, Danie Rossouw and Pedrie Wannenburg all made their 100th appearances and Steyn scored a record 263 points in the season – which included a record 51 penalties.

The Cape Town-based Stormers reached their first final thanks, largely, to their miserly defense. The Stormers conceded just 171 points in 13 regular season games.

The acquisition of Springboks Bryan Habana and Jaque Fourie also paid off as they contributed 13 tries between them.

“The season has been fantastic, honestly,” coach Allister Coetzee said despite losing the decider. “Flipping awesome.”

Australia’s Waratahs reached the semifinals for a third time since 2006 before losing to the Stormers in Cape Town.

Winger Drew Mitchell celebrated his first season in Sydney with nine tries – the joint leading tryscorer alongside Auckland’s Joe Rokocoko.

Coach Chris Hickey was voted Australian Super 14 coach of the year as the Waratahs finished third.

“This is really an award for the team and their achievements this season,” Hickey said.

The Crusaders claimed an incredible ninth playoff place in nine years before they were beaten by an inspired Bulls team – and travel fatigue -in the last four.

The Crusaders made three trips between New Zealand and South Africa in the two weeks leading up to the match before going down 39-24 to the defending champions.

The Reds, Brumbies, Blues and Hurricanes all narrowly missed out on the playoffs, with the Brumbies and Hurricanes denied by defeats in the final week.

The Reds scored famous wins over the Crusaders, Bulls and Stormers and were the season’s surprise package as flyhalf Quade Cooper led them to the brink of their first Super rugby semifinal since 2001.

The Brumbies also said farewell to George Smith, who bowed out after 11 years and 129 appearances.

Smith won two titles with the Brumbies, in 2001 and 2004, and played 110 tests for Australia – the most capped flanker in international rugby.

Having made the 2009 final, the Chiefs’ 2010 season was memorable for just one game, when they beat the Lions of Johannesburg 72-65.

The week two matchup produced a string of records: most points in a Super rugby game (137), most tries in a game (18) and most points by a traveling team (72).

“One-on-one defense let us down a bit,” Lions captain Cobus Grobelaar said after his team let in nine tries.

The Lions who went on to lose every one of their contests – the first time a team has lost 13 games in a season.

The lowly Lions, who finished

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