Vodacom Super Rugby
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Bulls fight Crusaders jinx
Cape Town - The Bulls, last year’s champions, could significantly re-announce themselves in Super Rugby if they upset the Crusaders in the small port town of Timaru on Saturday.
There is also the incentive of completing their first ever “sweep” on New Zealand soil, because they come off a 26-14 victory over the Hurricanes and then move on to Australian dates with the Reds and Force before their return to South Africa.
The team they beat in last year’s Super 14 final, the Stormers, beat off all New Zealand comers for the first time in finishing second, including a maiden 100 percent record there by winning against both the Blues and Chiefs.
Now the title-holders can follow suit on the road against the most formidable outfit in the NZ conference, even if the Bulls cannot complete the fullest “slam” of New Zealand conquests because they have already lost to the Highlanders at Loftus.
But if Victor Matfield’s men are to upset the Crusaders at the unfashionable Alpine Stadium - the 12 000-capacity venue is expected to be a sellout - they will also get a long-time monkey off their backs.
That is because you have to go back 15 years to 1996 for the last time the Bulls beat these opponents away.
It was a pretty convincing 34-18 at Jade Stadium in Christchurch then, at a time when neither team boasted a powerhouse reputation: the Crusaders finished rock-bottom of the Super 12 that year whilst the Bulls had not won the domestic Currie Cup since 1991 and would not do so again until 1998.
Since then it has been only heartache for the Bulls against the Crusaders abroad in seven subsequent meetings (including a 2006 semi-final), even if they have also knocked over the Cantabrians seven times on South African soil (once at Orlando Stadium, in the 2010 semi-final).
The Crusaders, it must be said, have found it easier to win occasionally in Pretoria, doing so four times.
The closest the Bulls have come in scoreboard terms to beating them overseas was in 2009, when the final score was 16-13.
It was an unusual outcome, at AMI Stadium, because the Bulls scored two tries (both Akona Ndungane) to one (by Isaac Ross) but played second fiddle in place-kicking terms, with Morne Steyn unusually landing just a solitary penalty on the day.
Especially after his highly influential showing in the game against the Hurricanes, the Bulls will surely be hoping for a better haul than three points by the Springbok pivot on Saturday ...