Can Brumbies bury Loftus bogey?

Mon, 22 Jul 2013 09:43
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Loftus Versfeld has once again become a near impenetrable fortress for the Bulls and the Brumbies are geared for a gargantuan effort.

Loftus Versfeld has once again become a near impenetrable fortress for the Bulls and the Brumbies know it will require a gargantuan effort when the two sides go head-to-head in a Super Rugby semifinal on Saturday.

The Bulls, who earned home ground advantage courtesy of the second place on the tournament standings, are on a 10-match victory run in Pretoria, dating back more than a year.

This is surpassed only by their 18-match winning streak in 2009 and 2010 - which resulted in back-to-back Super Rugby titles.

The Brumbies have also not beaten the Bulls at Loftus since 2006. And their only wins since 2006 were both fortuitous squeakers in Canberra - 23-20 in March this year, courtesy of a dubious last-minute penalty, and a one-point (31-30) win in 2009.

Making it an even more daunting task is the fact that the Bulls have never lost a play-off match at home - beating the Crusaders three times in the semifinals (even though one of those were in Soweto in 2010), as well as the Chiefs and Stormers in successive Final appearances (the 2010 win also in Soweto).

Brumbies coach Jake White, a man familiar with the pressure-cooker atmosphere his team will encounter in Pretoria, suggesting that his team's visit to Pretoria this week will be an experience his young team would likely never forget.

"It doesn't get bigger for this group of players than a semifinal at Loftus," the World Cup-winning for Springbok coach said before he and his team boarded a plane in Canberra to take on the 14,000-kilometre trip across the Indian Ocean.

"I've heard it's a sell-out crowd with 50,000," White added.

"It's going to be tough. Let's not kid ourselves.

"We're flying now to the other side of the world and playing in a country where rugby is No.1, No.2 and No.3 as their [favourite] code."

White, who has turned the Brumbies from no-hopers in 2011 (when they finished 13th in the 15-team competition) to Australian conference winners this year, said the Bulls will be a more formidable task than the Cheetahs - whom they beat 15-13 in the preliminary play-off (quarterfinal) at the weekend.

"They're a South African side and we know what they're like," White said of the Bulls.

"They'll play with their forwards and use [flyhalf] Morné Steyn to add the extras.

"But if we play to our best there's no reason we can't take a result."

He admitted the Brumbies were perhaps a touch fortunate against the Cheetahs.

"We got lucky with that [Riaan Smit] kick at the end there," White said of a last-minute conversion attempt that brushed the upright and could have sent the game into extra time.

"However, when I look back at that game from last week [against the Western Force], when we didn't play well, there's no doubt that our graph has started to go up.

"We spoke a lot about the fact that finals footy means playing for 80 minutes and we had to play 81 to get the result."

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Pool AU
Team P W D L Pts
Brumbies 15 6 0 9 34
Force 15 6 0 9 26
Reds 15 4 0 11 21
Waratahs 15 4 0 11 19
Rebels 15 1 1 13 9
Pool NZ
Team P W D L Pts
Crusaders 15 14 0 1 63
Hurricanes 15 12 0 3 58
Chiefs 15 12 1 2 57
Highlanders 15 11 0 4 51
Blues 15 7 1 7 37
Pool SA1
Team P W D L Pts
Stormers 15 10 0 5 43
Cheetahs 15 4 0 11 21
Bulls 15 4 0 11 20
Sunwolves 15 2 0 13 12
Pool SA2
Team P W D L Pts
Lions 15 14 0 1 65
Sharks 15 9 1 5 42
Jaguares 15 7 0 8 33
Kings 15 6 0 9 28