The Bulls refuse to accept that playing in Soweto will adversely affect their potency and denied that a hellish travel schedule will impact negatively on the Crusaders.
Loftus has truly become a fortress for the Bulls, who last lost there in April 2008. Their hot streak at the ground stands at 18 matches, which has included some emphatic victories over quality sides this season, the most impressive of which were 50-32 and 48-38 defeats of the Brumbies and Waratahs respectively.
Most recently they emerged victorious over the Crusaders, their semi-final opponents, in an epic match.
However, they now find themselves in uncharted waters, with Fifa regulations dictating that they surrender their stronghold ahead of football’s World Cup. Orlando Stadium in Soweto, although a world-class venue, offers none of the psychological comforts of Loftus for the players, while their supporters, formidable in their cathedral, won’t possess the same intimidating aura.
There have been suggestions, the most notable of which came from Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder that these factors will contribute significantly to diluting the Bulls’ potency. Frans Ludeke vehemently denied they would.
‘I don’t think it will be a decisive factor. We’re excited about playing at Orlando and the sense I get from our supporters is that they are looking forward to it as well,’ Ludeke told keo.co.za.
‘It’s a new challenge for us and this side has thrived on challenges. The atmosphere at Loftus is something special, but at the end of the day it’s still a game between four lines.’
Turning his attention to the Crusaders’ taxing schedule – which has seen them travel from Christchurch to Perth, then on to Cape Town, up to Pretoria, back to Christchurch via Sydney before departing for the Republic once more to contest the semi-final, all in the space of four weeks – Ludeke said the calibre of their opponents and their character would help them overcome travel fatigue.
‘They’re a highly professional side who’ll be up for the match. They won’t make any excuses or give us an inch,’ he said.
‘I wasn’t surprised they beat the Brumbies [on Friday]. They are good across the park, but we’ll prepare well this week and focus on our strengths.’
After the Bulls beat the Crusaders 40-35 in the penultimate league-phase match, Blackadder told the media they had discovered the formula to beat the defending champions. Blackadder told stuff.co.za: ‘You’ve got to [take it to them]. Apart from the end result I thought our performance was outstanding. I thought we showed some vulnerability there [in the Bulls], and we showed a really good template of what you need to do if you want to beat them.’
Asked for his thoughts on Blackadder’s assertion, Bulls lock Bakkies Botha said: ‘They think they have the formula, but this is a new match. We start at 0-0, and what happened before doesn’t really matter.
‘We’ll improve from our last match against them, and I’m sure they will step up too. The team that adapts and executes best in pressure situations will win.’
By Ryan Vrede