Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – Did local adulation for the Crusaders peak two
years ago, or will the phenomenon be in notably strong evidence again at
Newlands here on Saturday?
We will know once home outfit the Stormers have gone into
action (19:10) against the seven-time champions in one of the headline Easter
weekend games of Super Rugby.
The Stormers, winners of the South African conference for
each of the past two seasons, only played the iconic New Zealanders away in
2012, when the Cantabrians won 31-24, so the ever-controversial Cape contingent
of Crusaders fans did not get an opportunity to wave their red and black flags.
Newlands officials expect a near-capacity holiday crowd on
Saturday – it was very close to “standing room only” at the time of writing --
and are quietly confident that the vast majority will be rooting for the home
cause, especially as Jean de Villiers’s team are picking up momentum nicely
after a shaky start to their 2013 programme.
When the Crusaders won twice at the famous old ground in
2011 – including a one-sided 29-10 triumph in a semi-final – Sonny Bill
Williams fervour reigned supreme, although the extraordinarily versatile
sportsman later switched to a stint with the Chiefs and has since quit rugby
union again for the time being.
This weekend the Crusaders will be without several of their
more established household names, too ... none of Dan Carter, Richie McCaw or
Kieran Read have made the two-match trip to South Africa (they also tackle the
Sharks in Durban) so it is secretly hoped that the Cape Town-based
pro-Crusaders lobby won’t have too many recognisable faces to worship.
That said, players like Israel Dagg, occasional bad boy Zac
Guildford, Robbie Fruean and Andy Ellis still provide abundant star appeal and
undoubtedly aid the Crusaders’ reputation for easy-on-the-eye rugby.
The Stormers are also missing several blue-chip players at
present, with top scrummaging hooker Tiaan Liebenberg just the latest casualty
and likely to be sidelined until after the four-match overseas leg with an
elbow ligament problem.
But they, similarly, still have ample favourites on view and
will not expect the collective absences of Liebenberg, Eben Etzebeth, Peter
Grant, Bryan Habana, Schalk Burger and others to have any impact on the volume
of Stormers support.
“This is our home ground and we always have a strong support
base behind us,” coach Allister Coetzee said appreciatively at Wednesday’s
Asked by Sport24 whether the knowledge that a fair
proportion of the Newlands crowd may root for the Crusaders whenever they are
in town was an extra motivator to his Stormers charges, captain De Villiers
said: “I’m positive we’ll have massive support for the Stormers team this week.
“I think it was a bit of a one-off occasion (in 2011) ...
I’m just hoping to see white and blue this time.”
Probed on whether the Crusaders had possibly considered the
Stormers “special opponents” after their 42-14 drubbing at their hands at
Newlands in 2010, and only redoubled their desire to see his side off
subsequently, De Villiers said: “We don’t know the psyche of their team and
what they think about us, but nobody likes to be beaten by 20-odd points.
“I wasn’t involved then but remember that game – one of the
best performances I’ve seen the Stormers put in. They (Crusaders) were totally
outplayed that day, even after we were down 7-0 early.
“(But) we have huge respect for them; we’ll be tested all
around the park on Saturday.
“They’re one of those teams who perform year in and year out
and always seem to provide the bulk of the All Black side.”
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