The Bulls left South African soil yesterday under no illusion of the task that lies ahead of them as they prepare to face the Crusaders in their all-or- nothing play-off encounter in Christchurch on Saturday.
What has made the Bulls’ mission so unenviable is the fact that they will be trying to become the first South African side to beat the Crusaders at home while also hoping to continue their unbeaten run in play-offs against the Crusaders.
For all the Crusaders might and near invincibility when it comes to Super Rugby, their dominance of the competition was brought to an abrupt end when the Bulls started their stranglehold run in 2007 and since then the Crusaders have lost three semi-final encounters against the men in blue.
At the same time, the Bulls are a team that has made good their promise of winning trophies when they have reached the sudden death stages of the Super Rugby competition and, since making the semifinals in 2007, have gone on to win the competition every time they have made the play-offs.
However, the Bulls are not pinning their hopes on their past glory and instead are determined to write a new history.
But the Pretoria-based outfit are aware of the difficulty of the task ahead.
“It is definitely going to be a tough challenge but we are going there with a positive attitude and looking forward to this weekend’s match. Play-offs are a tight situation and hopefully we can get the result over the weekend,” said Bulls captain Pierre Spies yesterday.
While the Bulls have blown hot and cold in the past few weeks of Super Rugby, they will have left for New Zealand strongly believing that their chances of progressing through to the semi-finals are just as good as those of the Crusaders.
“In the play-offs it is a 50/50 chance of winning and it is a big challenge but they haven’t beaten us in a play-off but, with that said, we haven’t played a play-off away from home against them. It is a first for us and as a group we are preparing adequately this week to give ourselves that opportunity,” Spies added.
The Bulls will have little time to prepare for the game as they will lose almost two days while in transit but they would have travelled with the comfort of knowing that they will be at full strength this week with Springbok lock Flip van der Merwe certified fit after missing last week’s game against the Lions due to a hip injury.
Bulls coach Frans Ludeke is due to announce his team tomorrow and Van der Merwe is likely to be the only change – as he will return to his place in the second row with Wilhem Steenkamp dropping to the bench.
At the same time, Ludeke will also have to apply his mind with regards to his bench and will be tempted to go with a “five-two” bench to accommodate an extra forward.