Sunday May 16, 2010
The Crusaders players will receive a text from team manager Tony Thorpe this morning and most of them will hope it is a summons to meet at the airport this afternoon.
The seven-time champions want another crack at the Bulls. They felt like they should have beaten them in Pretoria last weekend, when they fell 40-35 to a last-minute and controversial try, so have some unfinished business.
It would mean a punishing schedule; returning to South Africa a week after leaving the Republic. That's 10 time zones that need to be crossed. Bodies aren't made for that kind of treatment, certainly not ones that also have to play top-level rugby.
For most, the alternative would be much more enticing - three more nights in their own beds before heading to Sydney to face the Waratahs.
But the Crusaders like challenges and beating the Bulls in South Africa is the ultimate.
"The guys are looking forward to it - they're determined to go back and have another crack [at the Bulls]," Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder said after his side's 40-22 victory over the Brumbies in Christchurch on Friday night.
That scenario was dependent on the Stormers beating an under-strength Bulls early this morning. If the Bulls, minus 13 of their starting side, somehow managed to win in Cape Town, then the Bulls would host the Stormers next weekend and the Crusaders would head to Sydney.
Regardless of who the Crusaders play, their opponents will be up against a side finding momentum at just the right time. Friday night's win might have been their first in four games, but over the past two weeks they have played a brand of football few teams could live with.
They are playing with pace and urgency and aren't afraid to push the passes. They're also doing it with accuracy.
It has seen them score some wonderful tries, like the one finished by Sean Maitland against the Brumbies. The movement started in their own 22m, saw wing Zac Guildford make a break and fling a long, underhand pass, featured Richie McCaw twice and was finished off by the flying Maitland.
Blackadder, who won three Super Rugby titles as a captain, can sense something building.
"We took a lot out of last week's performance [against the Bulls] and felt we had started to hit our straps," he said. "It was about building on that and we did. The players can feel it, too, and there's a really good feeling in this side and we're getting stronger and stronger."
The biggest difficulty will be coping with the travel, should they have to fly to South Africa.
But it is a similar situation to 12 months ago, when they returned from South Africa and beat the Reds in Christchurch and Blues in Auckland before flying back to the Republic.
The players had two hours in Christchurch after the Blues game to collect fresh underwear before jumping on another plane.
The Crusaders were excellent in the early stages of that semifinal, jumping out to a 20-7 lead over the Bulls before falling 36-23.
This time, however, the game will be played away from the Bulls' beloved Loftus Versfeld, where they haven't been beaten since April 2008. The pitch is off limits because of the football World Cup, meaning the game would be played in Soweto at the Orlando Stadium.
The Crusaders aren't expected to train any more than once this week to ensure they're right physically. They came through Friday night largely unscathed - No8 Kieran Read had a gash on his left cheek but it won't stop him from playing.