May 19, 2010
You can take Robbie Deans out of Christchurch, but his belief in Canterbury rugby proves harder to budge.
A five-time Super rugby title winner with the Crusaders, the Wallabies coach is not quite predicting an eighth championship this year - but he expects Todd Blackadder's men to at least make the decider.
Undeterred by the Crusaders' inability to win outside of New Zealand so far this year - and the fact they lost the corresponding semifinal last year 36-23 - Deans believed the Bulls' decision to rest practically their entire first-choice line-up from last weekend's derby in Cape Town could count against them.
Deans doubted fatigue would be a factor despite the Crusaders having a short turnaround to the Republic after eliminating the Brumbies in Christchurch last Saturday, days after returning from an unsuccessful road trip to Cape Town and Pretoria via Perth.
The unavailability of the Bulls' Loftus Versfeld citadel because of soccer World Cup commitments would be a bonus for the Crusaders, who face the reigning champions at Orlando Stadium in Soweto early on Sunday (3am NZT).
"The Crusaders have the advantage of playing away from Loftus," said Deans, adding the personnel changes made last week against the Stormers could also blunt the Bulls.
Deans was the beneficiary when then-Waratahs counterpart Bob Dwyer rested the bulk of his optimum lineup for the final round robin match in Christchurch eight years ago.
The Crusaders blitzed the Waratahs 96-19 and the Sydney side never recovered, losing their home semifinal a week later to the Brumbies by 41 points.
"I think it was a mistake to get off the horse," said Deans of the Bulls decision to sacrifice momentum by fielding a second-string team against the Stormers after locking down first place.
"I guess it'll be judged on how far they go."
Deans felt the Waratahs faced a tougher assignment in the second semi against a Stormers side that has improved immensely this season.
"The Waratahs have the harder part of the equation. The Stormers are in the instance of the climb, they'll be desperate, they've never won a title.
"At Newlands, Cape Town... and with the potent mix the Stormers have, they've got all the ingredients."
Deans would not rule out a Waratahs win and if the third-placed team prevailed -- and the fourth-seeded Crusaders -- a Sydney final would cap a much-improved year for Australia's franchises.
Meanwhile, though Deans was happy that three Australian teams featured in the top-six, he would not be drawn on the significance of only one New Zealand team making the playoffs in terms of the All Blacks prospects in 2010.
"I have no idea what they're thinking, it doesn't concern me," he said.