It’s semi-final time in the 2010 Super 14, and this weekend we’ll see the Bulls taking on the Crusaders, whilst the Stormers face the Waratahs.
It’s advantage to South Africa with two of their teams finishing first and second and guaranteeing home advantage for the semi-finals. The away team very rarely wins in the knockout stages – since 1996, there have been only 4 away victories at this stage of the tournament.
Everything seems to be pointing towards an all-South Africa final next weekend.
However, the Bulls are not playing in Pretoria – they have handed their stadium over to FIFA for some sort of football competition, so this match will be played at Soweto which ought to benefit the Crusaders.
The Bulls rested most of their players last week having already secured top spot, which means they’ll either be rusty, or in fine fettle for a rest – that doesn’t help much, but let’s assume they’ll be slightly below par.
The Crusaders have won 9 of their 11 semi-final appearances, which is quite compelling, and given that I have points to make up, I’m backing the underdogs in this one and have picked the Crusaders by 5.
The Stormers are usually the team with a lot of hype and expectation, without actually delivering results or trophies, but this year has been different. They have been very hard to beat, particularly in Cape Town where they have won five matches in a row, and the games they’ve lost have been by fairly narrow margins.
The ‘Tahs have been coming into some form, and have had a couple of good results against the Chiefs and the Hurricanes in recent weeks, but I think a victory at Newlands will be one step too far – my prediction is Stormers by 9.
The whole tournament has been hugely enjoyable to watch with some outstanding rugby being played, and this weekend’s games should be superb. It’s a very different brand to that seen in the Guinness Premiership and I’d normally assert that the interpretation of the laws is different, and that there’s less pressure to win, but I don’t think there’s any question that the skill levels are higher and that the games are played at a higher pace as a result.