PRETORIA - With all the grand history they come with and boasting some of the best players the world has seen, the Crusaders have an ugly secret they want nobody to speak about.
In the 10 years and four Super Rugby play-off encounters played on the Highveld, the most successful team in the history of Super Rugby is yet to win one. They will come to Ellis Park on Saturday desperate to shake the monkey off their back. Let’s take a closer look at those four matches:
Bulls (27) v (12) Crusaders, 12 May 2007 at Loftus Versfeld
This was the beginning of what would be a handful of epic battles between the two best teams from South Africa and New Zealand and these matches would play themselves out on South African soil.
The Crusaders had to quickly scramble to catch a flight from Christchurch to Johannesburg after witnessing the Bulls do the impossible by beating the Reds 92-3 to grab an improbable home semi-final.
It would be easy to attribute the Crusaders surprise maiden loss in a play-off to the travel factor but with an experienced outfit that had made the long trek to the Highveld on numerous occasions, this could not be used as an excuse.
Bulls and Springbok flyhalf Derick Hougaard was the star of the show at Loftus as he scored all of his team’s points with eight penalties and a drop-goal while All Black flyhalf Dan Carter slotted over four penalties.
This would be the beginning of the Crusaders four match play-off dry spell on the Highveld even with their star-studded line-up.
Bulls (36) v (23) Crusaders, 23 May 2009 at Loftus Versfeld
In a replay of the semi-final from two years before, the two giants of southern hemisphere rugby played out another epic battle with the Bulls proving too strong on the day.
Again, it was the boot of another Bulls flyhalf, this time Morne Steyn, that drove the dagger through the hearts of the New Zealanders as Steyn slotted over four drop-goals and three conversions.
The Bulls were once again superior in all facets of play and crossed the whitewash three times with tries from Springboks Akona Ndungane, Bryan Habana and Pierre Spies while the Crusaders scored two tries from George Whitelock and Kieran Read.
The Crusaders were proving to be the Bulls’ lucky charm as their second semi-final win was a springboard for another Super Rugby title for the side from Loftus Versfeld.
Bulls (39) v (24) Crusaders, 22 May 2010 at Orlando Stadium
The Crusaders would have gone into this game believing that it would be third time lucky for them and the fact that they weren’t playing at Loftus would hurt the Bulls.
However, the Bulls had mastered succeeding through adversity and were galvanized by the intimidating venue of Orlando Stadium in Soweto as Steyn put on another kicking master class with six penalties and three conversions.
The Bulls had picked up enough confidence and experience in the past three years to know exactly how to beat the Crusaders in play-off matches and this time around they put on an even bigger winning margin of 15 points with three tries Fourie du Preez, Zane Kirchner and Spies.
It was a win that again underlined the Bulls’ supremacy in the competition as they went on to win a record third title for a South African side and leave an unwanted blemish on the Crusaders play-off record in the competition.
Lions (42) v (25) Crusaders, 23 July 2016 at Ellis Park
It would have come as no surprise for the Crusaders to believe that their winless run on the Highveld in play-offs would come to an end on this barmy afternoon at Ellis Park after beating the Lions in their round robin fixture at the same venue but history would repeat itself in the ugliest of ways.
The writing was on the wall by the 15th minute with the Lions taking a 15-0 lead after two tries from Courtnal Skosan and Rohan Janse Van Rensburg and a penalty by flyhalf Elton Jantjies.
This encounter was another spectacle of running rugby with both sides throwing everything at each other but it was the Lions who would go into the half-time interval with a 22-10 lead after hooker Malcolm Marx had scored a try on the cusp of the break for the hosts.
Just as the Bulls had done in years gone by, Jantjies took the game by the scruff of the neck with his tactical kicking and pin-point accuracy when kicking at goal as he slotted over a drop-goal and a penalty before Ruan Combrinck and Ross Cronje put the result beyond doubt with their tries.
This would be the Crusaders biggest loss in a play-off game on the Highveld and further proof of the difficulties of travelling across the Indian Ocean and winning even with some of the best players in the world in your team.