Stormers set for Crusaders showdown
July 1, 2011
Crusaders captain Richie McCaw talks to the media © Getty Images
The Stormers entertain the Crusaders at Newlands on Saturday with a place in this year's Super Rugby showpiece up for grabs.
The South African Conference winners enjoy home advantage having secured runners-up spot in the over Super Rugby standings during the regular season but the prospect of playing another game away from home will not trouble the Crusaders who have spent the entire season on the road in the wake of the earthquake that hit Christchurch and damaged their AMI Stadium base back in February.
The hosts are chasing back-to-back final appearances having been pipped to the 2010 title by their South African rivals the Bulls. They can also boast two other unsuccessful semi-final appearances in 1999 and 2004 with the Crusaders sending them packing in the latter.
As seven-time champions and the most successful franchise in Super Rugby history, the Crusaders are no strangers to knock out rugby but they have not lifted the silverware since 2008 and have stumbled in the semi-finals in three of the last four years. They have not had to win on the road in the final four since 1999 - when they accounted for the Reds - but they know how to win in Cape Town having beaten the Stormers 20-14 earlier in the season.
Stormers - Player to Watch: First choice fly-half Peter Grant missed the earlier defeat to the Crusaders and his presence is sure to add some impetus to the Stormers' attacking play.
Stormers - Team News: Conrad Jantjes returns to the No.15 jersey with Gio Aplon moving to the right wing berth. As a result, Jean de Villiers is back at inside centre while Juan de Jongh makes way and drops to the bench. Jaque Fourie gets the nod at No.14 despite concerns over a groin injury and Dewaldt Duvenage is preferred to Louis Schreuder at scrum-half. But in the most intriguing selection, Saracens hooker Schalk Brits is named on the bench after the Stormers were granted dispensation to sign him on a short-term loan as injury cover. Click here for the full team.
Crusaders - Player to Watch: All Blacks international Dan Carter was also missing from the Newlands clash in May and has been the subject of much debate regarding his form of late. But he rarely fails to rise to the occasion so we can expect him to return to hit his straps and have a large say in the way this clash turns out.
Crusaders - Team News: Talismanic flanker Richie McCaw returns to the side following a lengthy lay-off due to a foot injury and starts ahead of Matt Todd who drops to the bench. Elsewhere, Kieran Read has shaken off concerns over an ankle injury and will pack down at his usual No.8 spot and while Carter has also dismissed fears of a hamstring strain. Click here for the full team.
Key Battle: The game is set to throw up a host of fascinating personal battles with the midfield showdown between the Stormers' Jean de Villiers and Jaque Fourie and the Crusaders' Sonny Bill Williams and Robbie Fruean set to produce fireworks one way or another.
Trivia: The Crusaders won their Super 12 semi-final against the Reds at Ballymore in 1999 but the last visiting team to win a semi-final were the Brumbies at the Waratahs in 2002.
Stats: The Crusaders have travelled an estimated 82,000km this year as a result of having to play all their match away from home in the wake of the earthquake that hit Christchurch back in February.
"They [the Crusaders] have class all over the field, so we need to match the physical intensity, be accurate, get our set phases right, and make better decisions. I think that was the only problem the last time. We didn't make good decisions at all." - Stormers coach Allister Coetzee hopes his side can right some wrongs.
"I do think you have to be very careful if you bring in marquee players at this time of the year, particularly for finals footy. It is something that Sanzar are really going to have to look at and deal with going forward." - Crusaders boss Todd Blackadder questions the Stormers' ability to recruit Saracens hooker Schalk Brits as injury cover.
Prediction: A titanic tussle is on the cards with the Crusaders' big names set to steal an edge and propel the visitors to an historic away win.
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