LIVE

    Loftus air: It's NZ teams' new big buddy

    2019-05-11 06:57

    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town - Welcome to our lung-busting hell.

    Effectively, that's so often been an intimidating, goading tactic to Australasian foes by the Bulls in their Super Rugby past, which featured three title wins between 2007 and 2010.

    But the "thin Loftus air" theme is losing its lustre at a rate of knots ... at least as it applies to travelling New Zealand outfits.

    More particularly, the modern Crusaders are embracing the challenge to such an extent that they've realised it can, instead, be turned into a wonderful ally.

    The defending champions and nine-time tournament winners, now hurtling toward a double-figure tally as daylight develops between them and most other comers on the overall table, have visited the hallowed Pretoria temple twice in three seasons, Friday's near-humiliation of the hosts (45-13) roughly emulating the 62-24 result achieved there in 2017.

    By notching seven tries to one, to the horror of most of a vastly-improved crowd at the stadium, the Cantabrians took their two-game try advantage there to a jaw-dropping 17-4, as it had been 10-3 in the equally unpalatable prior encounter.

    If the Bulls are making any new-age progress, we have to believe it is coming in baby steps at best, just based on those cold, no-place-to-hide stats.

    Friday's game also rather exploded the notion, evidenced pre-match in the quirkiness of the overall log status, that this was a meeting of one versus two in the competition: after it, the Bulls (now back with a wishy-washy 6-5 win record) had slipped a notch to third behind the Rebels, although a farcical 12 points shy of the forcibly, cruelly fourth-placed Hurricanes.

    In terms of the SA conference more specifically, the result also meant that the Sharks only needed to scoop one log point from their Saturday tour-closer against the Chiefs in Hamilton (09:35 kick-off) to snatch leadership of the volatile group.

    But the Crusaders aren't the only side from the Land of the Long White Cloud to have found Loftus an agreeable place to run up a "cricket score" this season - back in March the Chiefs, albeit currently marooned in 14th spot, also left the Bulls in a galling mess, thrashing them 56-20 and by seven tries to two that time.

    Neither of those home results bodes particularly well, of course, for the Bulls' imminent four-match trek across the Indian Ocean, where games three and four will be on New Zealand soil (Blues, Highlanders).

    Considering their poor overseas record in recent seasons, there is a serious danger that Pote Human's charges will sink without trace in the next few weeks as playoffs contenders; it is never ideal to undergo your main tour so late in ordinary season.

    Contrite captain Handre Pollard admitted after the 'Saders drubbing that there would have to be some "reflection" when they land in Australia for Friday's first fixture against the Rebels.

    But he also, significantly, made the point that the unusually high tempo they were forced into by the champions might have the positive effect of serving them well in a fitness context for the tricky Melbourne date.

    For truth be told, it almost looked more as though the Crusaders were the beneficiaries of the altitude factor than the home team in the latest fixture: their counter-attacks from turnovers or broken play seemed to happen in a flash, constantly forcing the Bulls to scramble desperately, and the New Zealanders also outfoxed them noticeably at breakdowns, where their sheer strength of numbers in an admirable hurry meant Bulls ball-clutchers were swamped and dispossessed, lacking sufficient aid.

    An admirable exception, it has to be said, was veteran Springbok eighth-man Duane Vermeulen, who was combative and committed at close quarters despite the all-round difficulties of the home cause, and engineered several steals of his own.

    Just how comfortable the 'Saders were at sparking attacks from a long way out was evidenced through the fact that the Bulls were anything but hard done by in territorial terms - they reportedly had some 57 percent of the real estate.

    Keep in mind, just as soberingly, that the visitors entered this clash straight off a long-haul flight, having slugged out a 21-21 home draw with an altogether more conservative, defence-conscious and unashamedly physical Sharks side only a week earlier, whereas the Bulls were playing their second Loftus match on the trot.

    "We wanted to push ourselves; to play at a pace," said delighted Crusaders captain Matt Todd, confirming what we had all just witnessed with some awe.

    The tourists earned fulsome praise from SuperSport pundit and World Cup-winning Bok leader John Smit: "They kept the pace up on a continual basis ... relentless; it was incredible."

    High altitude? Right now it seems anything but a South African rugby advantage.

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

    Read News24’s Comments Policy

    Live Video Streaming
    Video Highlights
    Sport Talk
    Breaking News

    Fixtures

    Friday, 24 May 2019
    • Chiefs v Reds, FMG Stadium Waikato 09:35
    • Brumbies v Bulls, GIO Stadium 11:35
    Saturday, 25 May 2019
    • Sunwolves v Rebels, Chichibunomiya Rugby Stadium 07:15
    • Crusaders v Blues, AMI Stadium 09:35
    • Waratahs v Jaguares, Allianz Stadium 11:45
    • Stormers v Highlanders, Cape Town 15:05
    • Sharks v Lions, Jonsson Kings Park Stadium 17:15
    Friday, 31 May 2019
    • Blues v Bulls, Eden Park 09:35
    • Rebels v Waratahs, AAMI Park 11:45

    Results

    18 May 2019
    17 May 2019
    12 May 2019
    11 May 2019
    10 May 2019
    04 May 2019
    03 May 2019
    27 April 2019
    26 April 2019
    20 April 2019
    19 April 2019
    13 April 2019
    12 April 2019
    06 April 2019
    05 April 2019
    30 March 2019
    29 March 2019
    24 March 2019
    23 March 2019
    22 March 2019
    16 March 2019
    15 March 2019
    09 March 2019
    08 March 2019
    02 March 2019
    01 March 2019
    23 February 2019
    22 February 2019
    16 February 2019
    15 February 2019

    Logs

    Rank Team P W Pts
    • Bulls (Q)
    • Jaguares (wc)
    • Lions (wc)
    • Sharks (wc)
    • Stormers

    Opinion Poll

    Which of the 4 South African team will finish with the fewest Super Rugby SA Conference points?

    Can you name the top Super Rugby tryscorers of all-time?

    TAKE THE QUIZ
    There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.