VODACOM SUPER RUGBY QUALIFIERS PREVIEW – CRUSADERS VS THE SHARKS
The side with the best record ever in Vodacom Super Rugby playoffs await The Sharks in Nelson on Saturday when they take on the New Zealand Conference winners, the Crusaders, in the second qualifier for 2011.
In the history of Vodacom Super Rugby, the Crusaders have never lost a home final or semi-final. They have won 16 of their 21 playoff matches for an amazing winning percentage of 76%, with all five their defeats in this stage of the season coming away from home.
These five defeats include three semi-finals in South Africa against the Vodacom Bulls (2007, 2009 and 2010), as well as two finals – once against the Brumbies in Canberra (2004) and once against the Blues in Auckland (2003).
At the same time, The Sharks will have to win only their second playoff match away from Durban. Since 1996 they’ve played in nine playoffs, winning three. Of these, the KwaZulu-Natalians have won only one – the semi-final in 1996 against the Reds in Brisbane.
The Sharks have faced the Crusaders once before in a semi-final, way back in 1998, when the team from Canterbury had to work hard to beat the men from Durban by 36-32 in Christchurch.
Because of a devastating earth quake that hit the region earlier this year, the Crusaders had to move all their home games from AMI Stadium in Christchurch. They have played in Nelson, at Twickenham in London, Timaru and Napier.
The semi-final against The Sharks will be at Trafalgar Park in Nelson, where the Crusaders have beaten the Waratahs (33-18) and Brumbies (52-10) this season, but lost to the Highlanders (18-26).
The result against the Highlanders shows the Crusaders can be beaten in home games, even though it doesn’t happen all that often. Since 2001, the Crusaders have only lost eight times at home.
In the history of the competition, they’ve lost 15 out of 108 home games and drawn four.
One of these “home games” was at Twickenham in London earlier this year, when the Crusaders beat The Sharks by 44-28 in a highly entertaining match, where the New Zealanders outscored the three-times runners-up by five tries to four.
Saturday’s qualifier will probably not be as open as their previous encounter, but after their recent victories over the Vodacom Bulls, Toyota Cheetahs, Brumbies, Waratahs and Hurricanes, the Sharks will surely have a go at Nelson.
In the first qualifier on Friday in Auckland, the fourth-placed Blues host the Waratahs, who ended fifth on the combined log.
The highest placed winner from the two qualifiers will travel to Cape Town to face the DHL Stormers (second overall) next weekend, while the lowest placed winner will take on the Reds (first overall) in Brisbane.