Crusaders coach Robbie Deans believes Loftus to be the toughest away rugby venue in the Vodacom Super 14, if not the world. And he rates the Bulls as a ‘bloody’ good team.
Deans has spent much of the last two days defending his decision to omit All Blacks star Richie McCaw from the match 22. In explaining his decision he made it clear that he did not believe McCaw, currently, was in a physical state to counter the onslaught of the Bulls.
And he emphasised that the Crusaders needed 22 players who could front up physically at Loftus.
“To have a must-win game and have to play it at Loftus right now, there is probably no tougher venue in the world, to be fair,” Deans told XtraMsn’s Duncan Johnstone. “They are right on top of their game, they are excited about the chance they have got, they have got a crowd that makes a Kiwi crowd look tame and it will be a full house.”
The Crusaders, cruising until a fortnight ago, must win at least one of their last two matches to qualify and they have to win both if they hope to get a home semi-final and potentially a home final.
“We would have liked to have already qualified but we haven’t. It’s going to the wire and that’s typical of this time of year. And that’s what we have observed in the last couple of weeks. We have come up against two teams that were desperate for results. That’s the way it is from this point on. So we are just doing what we believe is in our best interests. Not only to qualify if we are able to achieve that which isn’t a given, but to then push on and then do something.”
Deans told Johnstone that the Bulls were a more complete side this year than the one who thumped the Crusaders 35-20 at Loftus in 2005.
“There’s no doubt the Bulls have expanded their game. They are capable of attacking any channel. They have improved their method of shifting the ball but their ability to carry the ball directly is pretty bloody impressive.”
The Crusaders, very aware of the physical presence of the Bulls, have picked a team with an emphasis on mobility and it is their belief that the route to victory will be in the pace of the game.
“There aren’t too many short cuts on a rugby field and we won’t be trying to avoid them by running around (them). We have to engage them somewhere and where will be determined very much by what they throw at us as well. They will be second-guessing our strategy so it will be very much about responding to what is in front of us.”