May 10, 2007
The Crusaders have played eight Super rugby semi-finals and never lost but the team will have to dig deep into their much-vaunted reserves of strength to beat the Bulls in Pretoria on Sunday.
While an investigation is underway into a brawl involving several Crusaders players in Christchurch, coach Robbie Deans is plotting the moves aimed at pulling off another semi-final victory, this time against a side fresh from posting 92 points against the Reds.
That result cost the Crusaders a home semi-final.
"Sure the Reds were wooden spooners but they still don't go out there to suffer to that extent. The Bulls played well, they got a roll on," Deans told ONE News on Thursday.
"We were very excited about the opportunity to have a home play off, but the rest is history."
Of the Crusaders eight semi-final appearances, only one was an away match. In last year's final four they accounted for the Bulls 35-15 in Christchurch.
Only two South African teams have hosted semi-finals with the Sharks beating the Cats in 2001 and the Highlanders upsetting the Stormers in 1999.
While a home semi would have made things easier, returning first-five Daniel Carter is aware that a win in South Africa will be a special accomplishment.
"It's going to be a new experience for us but we're just going to give it everything. If it does come off it makes the reward so much more satisfying," the All Black No.10 said.
The fit again Carter and All Black skipper Richie McCaw will be key to the Crusaders' challenge with the side having suffered successive defeats for the first time in 26 games.
But McCaw says his side's stuttering finish to the year cannot be rolled out as a ready-made reason for a poor performance on Sunday.
"I think we're just going to not have any excuses. I think more than anything, if we use [that] as an excuse you're never going to get yourself in the right frame of mind."
"We've got a great opportunity playing in the semi-final."
And should they win that semi-final and the Blues overturn the Sharks, a home final awaits.
You can follow the Blues and Crusaders in action in South Africa with tvnz.co.nz's livescoring from 1am on Sunday.