SOWETO: Northern Bulls took a third-minute lead they never lost en route to a 39-24 triumph over Canterbury Crusaders in a historic Super 14 semi-final at Orlando Stadium on Saturday.
It was the first major rugby union match staged in this black township near Johannesburg and Nobel peace prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu called it the greatest development in the sport since the Springboks 1995 World Cup victory.
With Pretoria fortress Loftus Versfeld unavailable as it is being prepared for the 2010 World Cup next month, Bulls opted for Soweto and a capacity 40,000 crowd cheered them to glory after leading 23-10 at half-time.
There were also milestones for winning captain and lock Victor Matfield, who completed 100 Super appearances, and fly-half-cum-scoring machine Morne Steyn raised his season tally to a record 243 points.
Traditional slow starters, the South Africans were quick to apply pressure on the New Zealanders and number eight Pierre Spies stormed over the tryline just 126 seconds into the game for the defending champions.
Steyn converted and added a penalty before seven-time holders Crusaders hit back with a try from skipper and flanker Richie McCaw off a driving maul that fly-half Dan Carter converted.
But there was no stopping a Bulls team lucky to beat Canterbury in Pretoria two weeks ago and fullback Zane Kirchner touched down after an awkward bounce eluded numerous players.
Another conversion and another penalty from Steyn lifted Bulls to a 20-7 advantage and after Carter landed his only penalty of the match, the Bulls pivot planted the ball between the posts from well inside his own half.
Crusaders needed to score first in the second half and they did on 45 mintues when slick handling and a missed Dewald Potgieter tackle allowed wing Sean Maitland to go over far out with Carter adding the conversion.
A Steyn penalty steadied Bulls nerves and the turning point came after 63 minutes when scrum-half Fourie du Preez made a blindside break from a scrum, brushed off a Kieran Read tackle and dived over for Steyn to convert.
The red-and-grey clad visitors were allowing the game slip away from them as they trailed 33-17 and Steyn added another couple of penalties before lock Sam Whitelock snatched a consolation try that Carter converted.
BULLS 39 (Fourie du Preez, Zane Kirchner, Pierre Spies tries Morne Steyn 3 cons 6 pens) bt CRUSADERS 24 (Sean Maitland, Richard McCaw, Sam Whitelock tries Daniel Carter 3 cons pen) at Orlando Stadium. Referee: Stuart Dickinson (AUS).