Thursday, May 20, 2010

Battle hardened Crusaders vs well rested Bulls

The Crusaders have a massive task ahead of them.
While the Bulls earned the right to rest their top players at the weekend, knowing they had qualified for a "home" semifinal in Soweto, the Crusaders were forced to field their strongest line-up and suffer bumps and bruises as they suffocated the Brumbies at AMI Stadium in Christchurch.

Now the Bulls are lying in wait on the high veldt and coach Frans Ludeke is preparing to unleash his top XV against a Crusaders side that will have to shake off jetlag as they return to the Republic for the second time in just over a week.

With the Football World Cup ensuring most accommodation is rapidly filling, the Crusaders had to forgo their usual digs in the up-market Sandton district in Johannesburg and book a nearby hotel to rest after a 14-hour flight from Sydney.

Yet, despite the arduous journey and having to back-up again the Crusaders remain confident about knocking the Bulls out.

Coach Todd Blackadder will not be tempted to thrash his blokes in training as the franchise chases its eighth Super title: "No I won't. It's really about rest and recovery. Physically and mentally we are in great shape, we are probably down to one training a week and a light captain's run. That's probably the maximum workload."

By qualifying at the top of the log, Ludeke was entitled to wrap his players in cotton wool. It now remains to be seen whether he has taken a risk by resting his troops instead of keeping them battle-hardened.

Crusaders captain Richie McCaw said the Bulls had earned the right to whatever they felt was best: "They were in the fortunate position to be able to do that, to give other guys a go. So, they will be well rested no doubt. It is always a fine line between having a rest and carrying on, but I am sure they will be ready to go."

With the semifinal to be staged on a Saturday afternoon (South Africa time) the Crusaders will have an extra day to prepare. They had just five full days to recover from their turnaround after returning from South Africa last week before beating the Brumbies 40-22 on Friday night.

"When it comes to this time of the season, it is mental. That's the challenge – as you get to international and this type of rugby in the sudden-death stuff, it is who can make the best of those situations."

For McCaw this will be his third visit to the republic in four years for a semi against the Bulls. "I have been over there twice now and lost in the semis, so it would be nice to win one away from home."

In 2007, the Crusaders lost 27-12 and last year they got punted 36-23.
Both matches were in Pretoria.

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