The Bulls can already claim a moral victory over the Crusaders after the defending champions left captain Richie McCaw out of the match 22 altogether.
McCaw does not have fond memories of Loftus Versfeld, or perhaps much memory of it at all after he was smacked unconcious in the opening minutes of the corresponding fixture last year by prop Richard Bands. The Bulls went on to record an emphatic 35-20 win.
Coach Robbie Deans goes into the must-win – for both teams – match with something of a second-string pack, which could prove suicidal against the vaunted Bulls forwards.
The Crusaders camp confirmed McCaw had no serious health issues other than Deans describing him as still being “flat”. But the Bulls will be forgiven for thinking that McCaw – one of the outstanding looseforwards in the world – is just scared of what awaits him in the rarefied atmosphere at Loftus.
Australian players voted Loftus the worst place to visit, and it would be surprising if the New Zealanders actually found a trip to Pretoria appealing. McCaw certainly seems content to sit on the sidelines and avoid any nasty clashes with the big Bulls pack.
One wonders just how he is going to cope when he returns for the All Blacks in the Tri-Nations with the match also set to take place at Fortress Loftus. The second Tri-Nations Test between the two is also at altitude, with the Boks and All Blacks clashing at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium a week later.
Deans, however, believed McCaw would be ready to front the Brumbies in Christchurch next weekend where there was a need to have fresh players.
It’s a huge gamble with the Crusaders’ playoffs chances on the line over the final two weeks of round-robin action.
Crusaders team: 15 Leon MacDonald, 14 Rico Gear, 13 Casey Laulala, 12 Aaron Mauger, 11 Caleb Ralph, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Andrew Ellis; 8 Mose Tuiali’i, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Johnny Leo’o, 5 Reuben Thorne (c), 4 Chris Jack, 3 Greg Somerville, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett. Replacements: 16 Tone Kopelani, 17 Campbell Johnstone, 18 Craig Clarke, 19 Brad Mika, 20 Kevin Senio, 21 Cameron McIntyre, 22 Stephen Brett/Scott Hamilton.
By Andrew Hollely