Thursday, May 10, 2007
The Crusaders are drawing strength from their season-altering defeat of the Bulls in Pretoria a year ago when they go seeking the same outcome in the Super 14 rugby semi-final on Saturday (early Sunday AEST).
The 35-17 triumph at Loftus Versfeld - achieved with rookie flanker Tanerau Latimer starring in place of rested captain Richie McCaw - has been heralded as a turning point in the Crusaders' 2006 season which culminated in a sixth Super rugby title.
Following a draw with the Western Force and loss to the Stormers, the Crusaders travelled to Pretoria to face a confident Bulls side coming off two dominant home wins.
There is even great momentum favouring the Bulls this weekend, with the hosts having notched four consecutive wins of the comprehensive variety.
The Crusaders are coming off twin losses, to the ACT Brumbies and Chiefs.
Five-eighth Daniel Carter couldn't help but compare the two scenarios.
"Last year it was a key point in our campaign," he said.
"It's pretty similar now so we're looking to turn things around and what better way to do it than in a semi-final.
"You can get confidence from games like that, you realise how big a challenge it's going to be."
Losses over the last two weeks weren't mortal blows to the Crusaders, who had all-but qualified for the semi-finals before then.
However, this weekend was death or glory and Carter had noticed the lift in intensity.
"We have to lay everything on the line. If you don't perform here then your campaign is over, and everything we've put into it.
"(Playing in Pretoria) just makes the rewards so much better if you do come out on top."
The decision-making of Carter and inside centre Aaron Mauger will be crucial against a Bulls side who have improved markedly over the past month since they returned to South Africa.
In their last four games the Bulls have scored 212 points to 41, averaging a 53-10 win.
"In terms of momentum, we don't really have any I suppose," Mauger told NZPA.
"There's been a couple of disappointing losses for us, it's been hard to put a real finger on (why). It's probably given ourselves a kick up the bum and made sure we harden ourselves.
"But there are some good things we've done which hopefully we can bleed in."
All of the Crusaders have experienced playoff rugby, most for more than one season, something which should hold them in good stead in an intimidating arena.
"It's about the mental side of it and making sure we go into the game believing in what we've got," Mauger said.
Meanwhile, nobody within the Crusaders squad was prepared to comment today on the alleged fight on a Christchurch street over the weekend which reportedly involved a group of players from the team.
Team management wanted the players and coaching staff to concentrate on the semifinal while the police and Canterbury Rugby Union investigated the incident.
Video link on TV3