Preview: S14 semi-final – Bulls v Crusaders

This could be a classic. It is a game that features the tournament’s most successful team, a side with a proven winning recipe, against the side currently on the hottest streak of the year.

The question is simple: “Will the Crusaders’ proven play-off track record be the decisive factor, or will the Bulls continue with their impressive form?”

The answer to that question will only be provided from about 17.30 (15.30 GMT) on Saturday afternoon, when we will see these two giants go head-to-head at a sell-out Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria.

How then do you separate these two when assessing their prospects?

Play-offs, semi-finals or finals, are always about which team is most focused, more hungry, takes its opportunities, are the most disciplined and makes the least number of mistakes.

It’s best thus to look at what tactics they may employ, or look at what tactics worked for them in the past.

The Crusaders, in their previous 11 encounters with the Bulls, have almost always had the measure of the Bulls. On only two occasions have the Bulls won.

In recent times the Crusaders’ tactics were simple against the Bulls – they avoided line-outs and kept the ball away from the Bulls’ marauding forwards by kicking deep and then putting pressure on.

Bulls coach Heyneke Meyer expects the visitors from New Zealand to use pretty much the same approach.

The only difference is that this time his team have the skills, pace and stamina to cope with a more expansive approach. He feels his forwards are now capable of coping when the game is taken out wide.

“For sure, those tactics worked for them twice already,” Meyer said.

“However, about six players who are playing now did not play in Christchurch [a 10-32 defeat for the Bulls] and we have worked really hard on our counter attacking and how we play from deep.

“We have worked very hard on our handling and we can attack from other places, from deep.

“At a stage [in the last game] we got involved in a kicking battle with them and just kicked the ball back at them. But now we have the counter-attacking and kicking ability and the confidence as well to use it.

“I do expect them to use the same tactics with which they beat us last time, but we are also a very different team to that match [in Christchurch].”

Meyer has the utmost respect for the opposition, and regards them as “a very good team”.

And so he should. They have won the title six times and played in the semi-finals eight times in the last nine years.

However, there is something special about a Bulls team that plays with the confidence that the current crop of Bulls display.

“I truly believe that if we play like we are capable of playing we can beat any team on any day, especially at Loftus,” Meyer said.

The other crucial factor is how the Bulls’ lose forwards coped with teams trying to take the ball wide and play and expansive game – trying to run the big forwards ragged.

“We are a lot fitter than we were [in the Christchurch encounter back in mid-March] and we also have the pace in the pack now. We have a far more balance team – especially with the loose trio that are playing such brilliant rugby.

“We certainly have more pace than what we had in Christchurch and I’m convinced that with a bit of luck we will do it.”

Such confidence is often misconstrued as arrogance. But the Bulls have every right to be confident, based on their form of the last four weeks. Having scored 212 points and 29 tries in four games – while conceding just 40 points and four tries – suggests they are in a mean mood.

The Crusaders’ recent form is not as impressive. In fact they are coming off back-to-back defeats, against the Brumbies and Chiefs, which saw them slip from first to third place on the standings.

But Crusaders coach Robbie Deans know that what happened in the league

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