Bad blood revisted as Super playoff looms
Fri, 20 Jul 2012 12:57p.m.
The memory of a past slight and some fresh controversy will add an edge to Saturday's Super 15 rugby playoff between the Crusaders and Pretoria-based Bulls, teams that have shared 10 of the 16 Super rugby titles.
In Christchurch, many fans are still irritated by the allegations of eye gouging levelled by the Bulls against the Crusaders after their meeting in the seventh round of the regular season.
The Bulls claimed two of their players had been gouged during their 32-30 win at Pretoria in April, but no video evidence could be found to support the claims and the charges were dismissed.
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder demanded an apology from the Bulls but none was offered the incident was still smouldering when the Bulls landed in New Zealand.
Bulls coach Frans Ludeke, who has never lost a playoff match to the Crusaders, tried to soothe any lingering bad feeling.
"Relationships are vital for us, especially our relationship with the Crusaders," he said. "They're a team through the years that have showed they're professional on and off the field and I think nothing came from it." Blackadder agreed the issue should be left to rest.
"We've had a good relationship with the Bulls for a long time, well before my time," he said. "Certainly, both parties weren't happy with (the eye-gouging claims) but we've had a good chat on the phone and we've put it behind us."
However, just as one issue died this week others flared. The Crusaders' last three matches in the regular season - against the Hurricanes, Chiefs and Force - all featured contentious decisions by television referees and Blackadder admitted he is concerned further errors could mar the playoffs.
"We've just got to get those things right because it does determine where teams can finish, but one thing I do know is there's nothing you can do once the decision is made," Blackadder said.
"It's just something I hope doesn't creep into play, especially with the finals on the line now and these big games and big moments."
The Crusaders benefited from errors by the video referee in matches against the Chiefs and Force, when they were erroneously awarded tries to halfback Andy Ellis (twice) and fullback Israel Dagg. Errors were also made by television officials in favour of the Hurricanes in their matches against the Crusaders and Chiefs.
Those issues may have subsided by match day, when 18,000 people will cram into the Crusaders' new home ground in hope of seeing the team sustain its challenge for an eighth Super rugby title.
The Crusaders won titles in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2005, 2006 and 2008 while the Bulls were champions in 2007, 2009 and 2010. The Crusaders beat the Bulls in the semifinals in Christchurch in 2006 but lost semifinal matches in Pretoria in each of the Bulls championship seasons.
The winner of the match will likely face the Chiefs in next week's semifinals which would be the Crusaders' 13th semifinal appearance and for the Bulls their seventh.
The Reds, who won last year's Super 15 title, play the Durban-based Sharks in the other first-round playoff match Saturday in Brisbane. The Cape Town-based Stormers, like the Chiefs, have a first-round bye ahead of the July 27-28 semifinals and the Aug. 4 final.
Bulls captain Pierre Spies said the task of facing the Crusaders in Christchurch was formidable.
"Quarterfinal rugby is about how you handle pressure and how you exude pressure," he said. "It is obviously a challenge to play the Crusaders at home but we are looking past that.
"We've already played against them this year and it will be a tough game.
But we are backing ourselves."
All Blacks first-five Dan Carter, who will likely play a vital role for the Crusaders on Saturday, said home advantage was important for the Crusaders.
"We've played them over there quite a bit but to get them at home is great for us," he said. "They're a class side no matter where they play, but it's a huge challenge travelling over there and playing against them."
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