Bulls to put Super14 title on the line in Soweto

The defending champion Bulls take their quest for a third Super 14 rugby title in four years to a stadium they have never played at when they face seven-time winner the Crusaders in a so-called home semifinal this weekend.

The Pretoria-based Bulls have lost the use of Loftus Versfeld due to preparations for next month’s football World Cup and will now have to put their title on the line at the unfamiliar Orlando Stadium in Soweto.

The second-place Stormers will be more at home in Cape Town, where they host the Waratahs in Saturday’s other semifinal.

The Bulls’ move has been widely applauded and will take a major rugby match to the famous Johannesburg township for the first time, but it will rob the two-time winner of a huge advantage – the Bulls are nearly unbeatable at the intimidating Loftus after 18 successive wins there.

Orlando has been billed as a carnival-like celebration as South Africa gears up for the World Cup.

“This game is great for our country, and it is great that rugby comes to Soweto,” said captain and veteran Springbok lock Victor Matfield, who will play his 100th Super rugby game for the Bulls.

“We’re expecting a mini-Loftus on Saturday.”

The travel-weary Crusaders, who lost to the Bulls in Pretoria two weeks ago, have made the long trip back to South Africa after qualifying for the playoffs.

The Christchurch-based team reached their ninth straight semifinal, and 12th in 15 seasons, when they beat the Brumbies in New Zealand last weekend.

The Crusaders are the competition’s most successful team, with seven titles and nine final appearances, but they have lost two from two semifinals in South Africa against the Bulls.

Those games were at Loftus, however, and the 2008 champion will prefer to play the Bulls away from there and at a venue which may suit the Crusaders’ running style.

“We’ve heard good things about the stadium in Soweto,” Crusaders assistant coach Daryl Gibson said. “FIFA are using it as a training venue for the football World Cup so the surface is apparently very good.”

The Bulls, without suspended pair Gerhard van den Heever and Bakkies Botha, spent the early part of the week familiarizing themselves with the 40,000-seat stadium.

They have recalled their best players, who were controversially rested in the final round of the regular season – a loss to the Stormers – and will have 14 Super 14 winners in their run-on team.

The Crusaders have named the same team that beat the Brumbies, with star flyhalf Daniel Carter expected to shake off a minor ankle problem.

The Stormers and Waratahs both had confidence-boosting final-round wins to secure playoff places.

Both have also named unchanged teams, but the Stormers hold the psychological advantage at their Newlands stadium after beating the Waratahs there earlier this season.

Springboks winger Bryan Habana returned from injury to score two tries against the Bulls last weekend and help the Stormers to their first semifinal in six years, and first at home since 1999.

The Waratahs, who are two-time finalists, have their own try-scoring star in Drew Mitchell. The Wallabies flyer has nine tries this season and is the competition’s joint-leading tryscorer.

“They are a quality side,” Stormers coach Allister Coetzee said of the Waratahs.

“Their own supporters criticized them for not playing enough attacking rugby, but if you look at the tries they have scored recently you will see how dangerous they can be on attack.”

Like the Crusaders, the Waratahs will also battle jet-lag after a 20-hour flight from Sydney. They chose to prepare for the match in the east coast city of Durban before traveling to Cape Town on the eve of the game – a change in tactics as the Waratahs seek a first win in South Africa this season.

“There’s no great secret to winning here. You’ve got to manage the tr

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