Thursday, May 21, 2009

Entire Bulls team targets McCaw's impact
By DUNCAN JOHNSTONE in South Africa -

Bulls flanker Deon Stegmann is the man charged with marking Richie McCaw but says it will take a team approach to nullify the skills and impact of a player he believes can singlehandedly win crunch matches like Sunday's Super 14 semifinal.

McCaw was absent when the Crusaders beat the Bulls 16-13 but the red and black skipper is back for the match that counts at Loftus Versfeld.

These are the occasions McCaw thrives on and the Bulls know he will be a massive obstacle to them at the all-important breakdowns where second phase possession and continuity will undoubtedly influnce what is likely to be another tight contest.

"He is without a doubt the best openside flanker in the game at present and has been for the last five or so years," Stegmann said at a media session as the Bulls revealed their lineup for the showdown in Pretoria.

"He is a special, special player and one of the few in world rugby who can single-handedly win crunch matches for their side. When he was injured they didn't look like they'd make the play-offs, but his value was seen by the fact that they starting winning games as soon as he returned.

"He's shown how he can determine the course of a match over his career in Super Rugby and for the All Blacks. Every team wants to get quick ruck ball and we're no different. It'll take a massive team effort to make sure he has as small an impact on our ability to do that as possible."

Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder, whose squad has endured plenty of injury problems in his first campaign in charge, is delighted to have McCaw in his mix for this second crack at the Bulls in 2009.

He too realises the impact his skipper has on his players and the gameplan.

"Beating the Bulls in round robin was great but this is very different. We were pretty lucky that night, the Bulls had some chances. But you want your best men out there and our best man will be," he said with a smiling reference to McCaw.

Stegman, a classic fetcher himself, has become a key cog in the Bulls machine, playing all the matches in his debut season last year and kicking on in this campaign.

He's up for the challenge of going head-to-head with McCaw, comfortable with the backup talent around him in the form of Dewald Potgieter and the massively athletic and impressive No 8 Pierre Spies.

"If the Crusaders can get a quick recycle at ruck time they can be very dangerous. So if we can contest there effectively it'll make the job easier.

"That's a team goal, but I know it's my job to set the tone there.

"They like to keep the ball in hand and play through the phases, breaking teams down through their patience on attack.

"That's how they beat the Blues on Saturday and there's no reason to believe they will play any differently against us."

The Bulls are masters of slowing down opposition ball at mauls and breakdowns and that will be their aim against the Crusaders.

Quietly the Crusaders are comfortable with the appointment of New Zealand referee Bryce Lawrence for the semifinal, believing he has a good approach at the breakdowns and doesn't tolerate repetitive offences.

Stegmann was a victim of a similar attitude from South African referee Craig Joubert last weekend, copping a yellow card that lasted five minutes either side of halftime.

He's backing his discipline and ability to adapt to survive the ref's inspection this time

"We can't afford to play with a man down against any side in this tournament, particularly not in a semifinal,' he said.

"The difficulty comes in that different referees have different interpretations of the breakdown. The key is adapting early. Hopefully the referee will allow a fair contest both ways, I'm sure he will, because the breakdown will be the decisive facet of play."

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