21 May

Super 14 Semis Preview
by Tracey Nelson
21 May 2010

It’s almost deja vu when it comes to the Super 14 semi-finals for 2010. In a repeat of last year’s first semi the Bulls are once again taking on the Crusaders, whilst the second semi sees the Stormers playing the Waratahs. So what are the likely outcomes?

he Bulls have been unbeatable at home but this year the semi final has been moved from their fortress of Loftus Versfeld due to the stadium hosting Football World Cup matches next month, and the semi will be played in Soweto at Orlando Stadium – bizarrely enough a staunch football ground. Orlando Stadium only holds 40 000 spectators, so the crowd will be slightly less daunting than the 51 762 that can fit into Loftus.

The Crusaders nearly upset the Bulls a couple of weeks ago, narrowly missing a win in the dying minutes of the game. The following week, with top place well and truly sewn up, the Bulls chose to rest 14 of their top side in their clash with the Stormers (a game the Stormers won to clinch second place at the completion of round robin play). So the Bulls go into the semi after what could essentially be termed a self-imposed "bye", and they have also lost Springbok lock Bakkies Botha who is suspended for 4 weeks for foul play in last week’s game against the Stormers.

What will this potential loss of momentum mean for the Bulls? Only time will tell, with the Crusaders bouncing back to some form of old in their demolition (40-22) of the Brumbies last week. A confident Crusaders side will be looking for some form of payback for their narrow loss to the Bulls after the hooter, and they are team that are well experienced at adjusting to travel and time zone changes. The inclusion of Daniel Bowden at 2nd 5 seems to have been the change that Dan Carter required to hit some form, and it would appear the Crusaders may also have the upper hand in fitness and mobility if recent weeks are anything to go by.

Meantime the Bulls are attempting all sorts of mind games, pointing out to referee Stuart Dickinson that the Crusaders might possibly be doing illegal things in the scrum – no doubt in desperate attempt to gain parity over a Crusaders scrum that has been dominant in this competition. Quite how Dickinson responds to this remains to be seen, but you would hope he would have learnt enough lessons from the Italy-All Blacks test match he refereed at the end of last year not to be taken in by any front row illegalities from any side.

Should it come down to a penalty fest however, you would have to put your money on the Bulls. Their 1st 5 Morne Steyn needs just 3 more points to eclipse Dan Carter’s record for most points in a Super 14 season, and his goal kicking prowess at altitude is second to none.

The second semi final sees the Waratahs travelling to Capetown to take on the competitions best defensive team, the Stormers. The Capetown boys have played some outstanding rugby this year, and have a very well balanced side. But despite having the best points differential of all four semi-finalists, going against them is their inability to score lots of points themselves. So the question is, will their defence be good enough to hold out a Waratahs side that has quietly gone about their work and manages to score slightly more points for in each game than the Stormers have?

The Stormers will have taken note from the Highlanders’ win over the Waratahs that the best way to shut down the Sydney-siders is to get up in their faces and swamp them at the breakdown. But the Waratahs backs, with Berrick Barnes running the show at 1st 5, have looked very slick in the last couple of games and it will take everything the Stormers have to keep the line intact against the very clever kicking game the Waratahs use.

Home advantage may well prove the difference in this game, but don’t be surprised to see a yellow card in this game with Mark Lawrence officiating. Drew Mitchell could be the key man for the Waratahs, sitting first equal as highest try scorer with 9 to his name. For the Stormers, could intercept king Brian Habana be the deciding factor if it’s a close fought game?

The Crusaders are the only side to ever make a Super Final from 4th place (vs Reds in 1999), and have met the Bulls three times previously in Super semis – winning in 2006, but losing in 2007 and 2009 with the Bulls going on to take the competition title in both those years. The Stormers have never won a semi, whilst the Waratahs last semi final win was in 2008 (vs Sharks). Just who the two finalists will be shall be revealed just after 6.30am on Sunday morning (NZ time) at the conclusion of the Stormers v Waratahs match. The Bulls v Crusaders kicks off at 3am Sunday morning (NZ time).

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