Crusaders to test Bulls mettle

The Northern Bulls receive a tough early test of their Super 14 rugby title defence in a showdown with six-time champions Canterbury Crusaders in Pretoria on Friday.


The Bulls were the first South African side to win the southern hemisphere provincial crown with a 20-19 victory over the Coastal Sharks in last season’s decider.


They got there after beating the Crusaders in their semi-final, preventing the New Zealand outfit from reaching a sixth consecutive final.


But the Crusaders are now the hunters and under new Wallabies’ coach Robbie Deans will be out to show who is boss in the early weeks of the tournament.


The Crusaders crunched the hapless ACT Brumbies 34-3 in their season opener, while the Bulls came from behind to overhaul South African rivals Western Stormers 16-9 in Cape Town last weekend.


“The Crusaders have been the top team in Super rugby for a while now and they have spoken a lot about this game. We know that this could be a grudge match,” Bulls captain Fourie du Preez said this week.


“They have got world class players in their team and they love occasions like this,” Bulls coach Frans Ludeke agreed.


Deans has denied there is a revenge factor after the 12-27 defeat in the Pretoria semi-final, and he has just seven members of last year’s Crusaders’ starting 15 playing on Friday.


“The Bulls have moved on, and so have we. They are a different team this year with a few new faces, and our combination has some new players in it as well.


“Obviously, Friday night is going to be a huge occasion so we are looking to utilise all of our experience to deal with that.”

 

French playmaker Frederic Michalak makes his debut for the Sharks against the Stormers in Durban on Saturday after withdrawing from last week’s game with a calf strain.

Sharks coach Dick Muir is confident fly-half Michalak, with 50 Test caps, will bring a blend of flair and flamboyance to this year’s Super 14.


“He is one helluva player and a great team guy, a big name who has come out here with a humble attitude and a great work ethic,” Muir said.


“We did not realise what a coup it was signing him from a publicity perspective as we’ve had several TV crews out from Europe following him around Durban.”

 

Australia’s Western Force will try to put behind this week’s tumult over the sacking of former Wallabies’ scrum-half Matt Henjak for Friday’s Bloemfontein match with Central Cheetahs.

Henjak was sacked by the franchise after he was found guilty in a disciplinary hearing of breaking the jaw of teammate Haig Sare in a Perth bar before the team’s departure to South Africa.


Wallaby lock Nathan Sharpe returns to skipper the Force after a stomach upset prevented him from playing in the 17-10 defeat to the Sharks last week.


NSW Waratahs coach Ewen McKenzie went to hospital Thursday to have a kidney stone removed but was still expected to rejoin his team in New Zealand before Saturday’s match with the Waikato Chiefs in Hamilton.


The Waratahs, with rugby league newcomer Timana Tahu influential, downed the Wellington Hurricanes 20-3 in Sydney last week, while the Chiefs went down 32-14 to Auckland Blues.


In this weekend’s other games, the Hurricanes host the Queensland Reds in Wellington on Friday, the weakened Brumbies take on Otago Highlanders in Canberra on Saturday, and South Africa’s Golden Lions play Auckland Blues in Johannesburg.


Sapa-AFP Super14.com

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