May 9th, 2007
Crusaders kingpins Richie McCaw and Dan Carter can't think of many greater rugby challenges than what their Rebel Sport Super 14 team face this weekend.
Arguably the world's two best players, McCaw and Carter will be at the heart of the All Blacks' World Cup campaign this year but before then have a super-sized battle on their hands to quell the Bulls in Sunday's semifinal at Pretoria.
Loftus Versfeld sold out within minutes of the final public tickets going on offer, sparking a spate of complaints from those who missed out.
Such is the desire of locals to be at a game where the atmosphere will be close to unmatched at any level of rugby for its fervour.
"If you're going to come out on the right side of one, to do it there would be pretty special," McCaw says.
There was no need for the Crusaders to openly plan for how to blot 60,000 screaming Afrikaaners out of their minds, with McCaw confident his teammates are mentally braced.
"It's little things. You just make sure that when calls are made, you listen, rather than expecting you'll hear," he said.
"We all realise it's going to be a bit noisy so the big thing is not to feel lonely.
"Sometimes when you get under the pump, it gets tight and you can't hear the guy beside you, you think you're on your own. But you've just got to realise that you can use that atmosphere to get excited."
Carter was excited by a different form of atmosphere, the thin air of playing at altitude which will allow his already-prodigious punting reach a superior level of distance.
However, Carter was wary not to devote their game plan to gaining territory as playing an expansive game had worked in their last three Bulls clashes, all resulting in easy wins.
"You've just got to read it. Early in the game they (Bulls) get pretty fired up and sometimes the best way to get around that is by turning them around. It gets their big boys running around the field and not get that physical nature they're after," he said. "But there is space out wide and other areas to attack so we'll bring quite a mixture to our game this weekend."
The Bulls were a more rounded side than in recent seasons, Carter believed. Playing with the confidence of a team on a four-match winning streak, the Bulls were now moulding together a decent backline -- evidence was Sunday's record 92-3 humbling of the Queensland Reds.
"They're getting good ball as usual from that forward pack but they're scoring some great tries from 60-70m out and I guess that's something they've really turned around this year," Carter said.
"It's not just the big monstrous forward pack to worry about any more.
"They drive and play territory, which I'm sure they'll do, but they've definitely got those tryscorers out wide."
One who may disagree with Carter about the Bulls backline is Queensland Reds and former Australian coach Eddie Jones, who found time after his team's hiding to criticise the alignment of first five-eighth Derick Hougaard.
Jones said Hougaard stood too deep, curtailing the prospect of attacking backplay.
Meanwhile, Carter declared himself fit for the semi, having overcome a neck muscle injury suffered in the final minutes of the loss to the ACT Brumbies two weeks ago.
He and two others who missed last Friday's loss to the Chiefs with injury -- prop Wyatt Crockett and halfback Kevin Senio -- all trained without incident today.