Blues and Crusaders aiming to rewrite history

The Blues and Crusaders will attempt to become the first teams since 1999 to win Super rugby Semi-Finals on foreign soil when they face the Reds and Stormers in the penultimate weekend of the Super 15 Rugby season on Saturday.

In what may be an eerie foreshadowing of weekend events, the Crusaders were among the last teams to achieve the feat when they beat the Reds in Brisbane in 1999.

The Highlanders repeated the achievement in the second Semi-Final of the same season, beating the Stormers in Cape Town.

On Saturday, the first-place Reds host the Blues in Brisbane and second-place Stormers are at home to the Crusaders in Cape Town.

Each team carries its own historical baggage.

Top qualifiers the Reds and Stormers have never won a Super rugby title in the professional era, though the Reds twice won the Super 10 Rugby competition in the mid-1990s.

The Crusaders will attempt to extend the most successful record in Super rugby when they appear in the semifinals for the 13th time and for the 10th-straight season.

The Blues have the second-best record in the tournament’s history as three-time winners and three-time runners up but have not been to the semis since 2007 and last won the title when they beat the Crusaders in 2003.

The Stormers were beaten finalists last year and have therefore been to the final more recently than any of the other semifinalists: the Crusaders were last finalists in 2008 when they won a Super rugby championship for the seventh time.

Perhaps the burden of history is greatest on the Reds as they have led the current tournament throughout the season and finished in first place for the first time since the advent of the Super 12 in 1996.

In doing so, they completed their remarkable transformation under coach Ewen McKenzie.

The Reds finished 13th in 2009 before McKenzie took over and guided them to fifth place last year and to No. 1 qualifier this season – their first semifinal since 2001.

The Reds have carried a heavy burden through much of the past season, having to see off a string of opponents determined to prove themselves with a win over the tournament’s top-ranked team.

They have still managed to put together their longest winning streak in Super rugby – seven matches before their loss to the Hurricanes in round 11 – and to extend a winning run at home to 12 games before their loss to the Brumbies in round 16.

That long run of pressure matches might have steeled the Reds for Saturday’s playoffs and helped to compensate their recent lack of semifinals experience.

McKenzie told Australian media that lack of big game experience became a problem only “if you keep talking about it.”

“We’ve played some big games this year, including against the Stormers in front of a big crowd on foreign soil, and we got through that,” he said.

“We played in front of our biggest crowd against the Crusaders and got through that.

“And we’ve had a few close games, such as against the Waratahs, which we managed to deal with. So I’m not stressed about that side of it. We’ve confronted big circumstances this year, and have come out of them OK.”

McKenzie said the Reds had players in key positions, notably halves Will Genia and Quade Cooper, accustomed to the intensity of test football.

The return from injury of outside backs Digby Ioane, Anthony Faingaa and backrower Beau Robinson is expected to provide strength.

“It is important that in key positions, as well as in decision-making and leadership, we have experienced players,” McKenzie said.

“Even our fringe players … have played in front of big crowds. So I don’t think the players will be worried about the occasion … it’s more about getting our game right.”

The Blues, who were beaten 37-31 by the Reds in their last trip to Suncorp Stadium, will attempt to become the first team in 12 y

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