Cape Town - The Stormers have beaten the Bulls 30-13 with an impressive performance in their final Super Rugby match at a packed Newlands.
The Stormers were full value for their 23-13 half-time lead.As it happened: Stormers v Bulls
The defeat ended a nine-game winning streak for the Bulls and caused them to miss out on top place in the standings.
Needing a 10th straight victory to make sure of a No. 1 finish and a home final should they win their semi, the Bulls were outplayed from the start by the inspired Stormers at Newlands.
Springboks Eben Etzebeth
, Bryan Habana
and Jean de Villiers scored tries for the Stormers, who ended 2013 strongly in South Africa's always-fierce north-south derby after an average season.
Fullback Zane Kirchner
had the Bulls' only try midway through the first half to close it to 14-10, but the Stormers still led throughout and pulled away in the second half for a deserved win.
The Bulls finished second overall after a fourth loss in 16 and will host a home semi-final in two weeks.
However, their first loss since March hands the advantage to the table-topping Chiefs of New Zealand, who are in pole position to defend their title in a home final in Hamilton.
The Bulls and the Chiefs await the winners of next weekend's qualifiers, where the Christchurch-based Crusaders of New Zealand host the Reds of Australia, and the Brumbies of Australia play the Bloemfontein-based Cheetahs of South Africa for a place in the last four.
Saturday's defeat for the Bulls could mean that they eventually have to travel to the Chiefs to try and win their fourth Super Rugby title — provided the top two teams win their semi-finals.
Springboks lock Etzebeth powered over in the left corner in the 10th minute to set the tone for a derby where the Stormers swept away their on-off form to down the powerful South African Conference winner.
Wing Habana sliced through the Bulls defense in the 16th for a try in his final game in Super Rugby before joining France's Toulon, and South Africa captain De Villiers drove over from close range for the victory-sealing third early in the second half.
"Obviously a bit disappointed.
"We missed a trick tonight and missed an opportunity to be top of the log," Bulls captain Dewald Potgieter
said, barely celebrating as he received the trophy for winning the South African Conference.
"But we're in playoff rugby now and that's all that counts."
Young flyhalf Gary van Aswegen kicked three conversions and three penalties to keep the Stormers ticking over, although the Cape Town team has only the domestic Currie Cup to look forward to now.
Kirchner hit the line at pace to reach out for the Bulls' try in the 21st, but the Pretoria-based side never got closer than four points with the Stormers' forwards regularly on the front foot, Van Aswegen taking his opportunities, and the backs scoring tries when they had the chance.
The Bulls effectively conceded victory soon after De Villiers' score in the 56th as they took off international flyhalf Morné Steyn and other starters to save them for the semi-finals back at home in Pretoria.
"We're back at Loftus (Versfeld), where hopefully we'll have the rest of South Africa backing us to do the job," skipper Potgieter said.
South Africa's record try-scorer Habana had the last act of his final game before leaving for the European champion as he kicked the ball into touch to signal the Stormers' victory.
Stormers - 30: Tries: Eben Etzebeth, Bryan Habana, Jean de Villiers; Conversions: Gary van Aswegen (3); Penalties: Van Aswegen (3)
Bulls - 13: Try: Zane Kirchner; Conversion: Morné Steyn; Penalties: Steyn (2)
15. Gio Aplon, 14. Gerhard van den Heever, 13. Juan de Jongh, 12. Jean de Villiers (captain), 11. Bryan Habana, 10. Gary van Aswegen, 9. Louis Schreuder, 8. Nizaam Carr, 7. Rynhardt Elstadt, 6. Deon Fourie, 5. De Kock Steenkamp, 4. Eben Etzebeth, 3. Brok Harris, 2. Scarra Ntubeni, 1. Steven Kitshoff
Substitutes: 16. Martin Bezuidenhout, 17. Pat Cilliers, 18. Gerbrandt Grobler, 19. Don Armand, 20. Nic Groom, 21. Elton Jantjies, 22. Damian de Allende
15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Dewald Potgieter (captain), 7 Jacques Potgieter, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Dean Greyling
Substitutes: 16 Callie Visagie, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Morné Mellet, 19 Jacques du Plessis, 20 Jono Ross, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Jürgen Visser