SA duo must target Crusaders

2010-04-26 14:02

Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town – Easier said than done, of course, but if both the Stormers and Bulls can dispose of the Crusaders over the next fortnight, Vodacom Super 14 semi-finals featuring two South African and two Australian sides are highly likely.

I suggested in a radio chat early on Monday that the Crusaders, traditionally the pick of the Kiwi crop and also most iconic team in the tournament’s history, are arguably the side most at risk among the top five on the table.

While it remains a tad too early to say this definitively, it is looking increasingly likely that four of the current leading five - Bulls, Stormers, Crusaders, Reds and Waratahs in that order - will advance to the knockout phase.

And a glance at the remaining fixtures suggests that of this group, it is the Canterbury outfit who face the toughest run-in.

They have successive matches on our soil against the Stormers (this Friday night) and Bulls, followed by one last home hurrah against a Brumbies side probably out of contention by then, but far from rollovers on any occasion.

My sentiment is fearfully shared in New Zealand itself: seasoned critic Wynne Gray of the New Zealand Herald admitted “there must be doubt” the Crusaders will make the cut after the shock loss to the Force in Perth, en route to South Africa.

“If the seven-time champions play as moderately (against the Stormers and Bulls) as they did in their 24-16 loss to the Force, every New Zealand side could miss the playoffs as they have just once before in 2001.”

On that occasion, the semi-finalists were the Brumbies, Sharks, Cats and Reds and the Brumbies went on to win the final at a canter in Canberra against the KwaZulu-Natalians.

It is hard to escape a suspicion that, despite the surprising levels of grief Aussie teams have given South Africa’s contenders this year – and the Stormers in particular – both leading SA franchises would secretly like to see the street-smart Crusaders eliminated from the chase.

After all, they boast many gnarly players who have emphatically “been there and done that” at the business end of the Super 14.

The intriguing thing about their respective outings at Newlands and Loftus, however, is that Richie McCaw and company need hold no special fear of either occasion if their recent history in this country is employed as a yardstick.

In 2008 they smashed the Bulls by an unlikely 54-19 in Pretoria, and promptly handed out a not dissimilar dose of heartbreak in Cape Town, downing the Stormers 22-0.

Two years earlier they also stormed Fortress Loftus, winning 35-17, although the Stormers did soundly beat them 28-17 at Newlands.

There is also a semi-final encounter to consider in 2007, when the Bulls trampled the Crusaders 27-12 on the Highveld, en route to grabbing the trophy for the first time in Durban, courtesy of Bryan Habana’s late, late show.

Curiously, then, the Crusaders’ modern-era matches against the Bulls and Stormers in South Africa are seldom close … they either smash these opponents or get smashed themselves!

It all adds up to a very healthy air of suspense over the two looming, red-letter matches.

Lose both and the Crusaders are almost certainly in big, big trouble … and then the perfect scenario from a South African perspective becomes ever more likely: home semis for each of the Bulls and Stormers against either of the Reds and Waratahs respectively.

But now just imagine if the Crusaders - hardly lacking in “BMT” and sure to be smarting after their hiccup in Western Australia - triumph on both occasions.

That sets the cat among the pigeons and the twin South African challenge is badly knocked back anew.

Strap in for the thrill-ride …


  • Eugene du Plessis - 2010-04-26 14:11

    Very good article Rob.

  • Joe - 2010-04-26 14:25

    Lets get behind the SA teams to first make the payoffs and then the finals !

  • Jef - 2010-04-26 14:26

    The Bulls look like they are searching for form the last weeks. However altitude will play an important role after a tough game in Cape Town. Stormers have the strongest team in years and will be able to outplay the Saders.

  • keith - 2010-04-26 14:29

    Don't right the 'Saders off - still 3 weeks of hard core rugby to go. It's going to be one hell of a ride!

  • Chris - 2010-04-26 14:31

    It just seems such a pity that the Tahs are in contention. They are the team with the most dubious wins this season (come to mind in particular the match against the Sharks and how that was won) yet here they are almost certainly going to make it at the expense of either the Saders, Bulls or Stormers. The Aus 16th player has truly done a remarkable job this year.

  • RR - 2010-04-26 14:35

    I guess we all have our preferences. If I could choose I'd rather prefer two NZ sides above two Aussie sides. Simply because I hate them Aussies. NZ respectable rugby nation. Semantics I guess.

  • Dingbat - 2010-04-26 14:46

    Check this out . What happens if the Stormers lose their last 3 games, the Sharks win theirs and the bulls lose to the Crusaders as well? Add some spice by letting the Tahs and Reds win all their games with the odd bonus point thrown in..... This thing is still wide open.

  • Lions supporter - 2010-04-26 15:20

    may the bullssmash them all and the stormers hulle moer in asb

  • Black Panther - 2010-04-26 15:23

    The Sharks must please forget and let go of any hopes to reach the playoffs...just fix your games and against the Bulls & Stormers, give them 5 points each...We ar looking forward to 15 May for the final before the final Stormers vs Bulls...and Habana will be the first SA player to be a S14 winner back-to-back LOL

  • @keith - 2010-04-26 15:25

    Don't worry .I won't right the 'Saders off!

  • DeonL - 2010-04-26 15:49

    Realistically only Stormers and Bulls of South Africa have a chance to reach the semi finals, as long as they each try to get as many as possible bonus points even when they lose a game or 2. Go Bulls and Stormers! The last regular game of the season might decide who makes it!

  • Referee - 2010-04-26 15:50

    You are completely ignoring the role of Australian refs? Which games are they officiating? Look at their history. What do they want to happen?

  • Tim - 2010-04-26 15:55

    Great 3 weeks of Rugby ahead. But Everyone is forgetting that the Reds have the easiest 3 weeks ahead, Compared to the Stormers,Bulls and Saders. And with the Bull and Stormers both still to play the Saders,Sharks and each other, it's all set to be a cracking 3 weeks ahead. The Sharks are definitely starting to play better rugby, and could prove very tough games for both the Bulls and the Stormers. My money however is on the Stormers to win this years S14, their recent form suggests just that. And with the Bulls missing a Key man like Bryan Habana on defence the Stormers are sure to open holes in the Bulls defensive lines. GO STORMERS.

  • Molefe - 2010-04-26 16:07

    Man, can you imagine the stink in NZ if none of their teams make it to the semi's?

  • Stephaans - 2010-04-26 16:20

    Don't forget the Semi Final last year at Loftus where the Bulls ended smashing the Crusadrers to march into the Final and take the Cup for a second time.

  • Mr Rugby - 2010-04-26 16:31

    The Bulls and Stormers has got still a long way to go in this Super 14. They have 3 really hard game lying ahead. I won't be sleeping soundly if I was Victor or Schalk! The Stormers will lose with 8 or more this weekend. I think the Bulls will be able to hold their Strength and beat both the Crusaders and Sharks. The Stormers will then need to beat the Bulls to get into the Semi Finals! Some GREAT RUGBY in the following weeks!

  • Saders! - 2010-04-27 00:47

    Crusaders will win against 1 of the 2 against the Stormers and Bulls if not both.Last year Saders team @ Moftus was a weak team.Saders will be in the semi's.Only way the Bulls will make it to the finals is if they get a home semi.I they have to travel they gone!Sign of a weak champ.Can only perform at home...ditto for tortiose Steyn.

  • fonuatanu - 2010-04-27 01:00

    After looking at all the scenarios played out, there is only one thing certain about the next 3 mathches and that is absolutely NOTHING!!! The lament I hear is that the Bulls or Stormers are going to take it this year. That my friends is a large amount of emotion and an ever greater dosage of patriotism. You cannot dismiss experience and the Crusaders didn't win the mojority of S14 titles because they did not know how to get there. They have been there (even their coach), and they have done it and that road is beaten well - it probably even has a few sader markers along the path. Whichever happens it will be fun to watch. Good luck SA but I am going against the grain - even the results thus far... go crusaders!!!

  • Gerrit@Saders - 2010-04-27 16:22

    Ah yes, common sense is not that common. Go look at the previous years' results ouboet. Travelling in-country or between AU and NZ is not that big a deal. But whenever a SA team must travel abroad for a semi/final they loose. And whenever an AU or NZ team travels to SA for a semi/final they loose. Every team strives for the coveted 1st spot on the log because it really improves the chance of ultimate success, especially if it saves you a trip accross the waters. Your comment on the Bulls being weak champs is just silly because your beloved Saders has never been good enough to win a Super title in SA. By your logic one can derive that: if the Bulls are weak champs then the Crusaders (and all the other teams for that matter) are weak non-champs...?

  • Dawie - 2010-04-28 21:36

    Crusaders will go down to the Bulls on Loftus. Altitude, the Loftus faithful and home ground advantage will pull it through as usual. Stormers will go down to the Crusaders. They have not yet developed the character so take the really big ones and referee Stuart Dickinson will neutralize the Stormers more effectively at the breakdowns than Richie McCaw can ever hope to do himself.

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