Playoff will test mettle - Bulls coach Ludeke
If Bulls coach Frans Ludeke was any more diplomatic he'd be in line to be South Africa's next high commissioner to New Zealand.
Ludeke - who has an unbeaten record against the Crusaders in Super Rugby playoffs - wouldn't buy into any talk about the Crusaders influencing referees or cheating at the breakdown when he spoke to The Press at a team pool session yesterday.
He was also adamant the eye-gouging allegations levelled against the Crusaders after the two teams clashed at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria in April were ancient history.
Ludeke said he had not read yesterday's column by Fairfax New Zealand columnist Mark Reason alleging the Crusaders had been serial cheats this season and skipper Richie McCaw was intimidating some referees.
"I haven't read it, don't make a lot of it," he said after stating Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder was "a personal friend of mine". "We've got huge respect for them as a side. On and off the field, they conduct themselves very well, they're trendsetters in a lot of phases in the game."
After the Bulls beat the Crusaders 32-30 in Pretoria, allegations surfaced that Bulls lock Flip van der Merwe and hooker Chiliboy Ralepelle had been victims of eye-gouging.
The Crusaders vehemently denied the slurs and no action was taken by the citings commissioner after reviewing tapes of the match. Blackadder is still waiting for an apology from the Bulls camp.
Ludeke had no wish to relitigate the matter yesterday, saying the officials had found "nothing" untoward. Any contact was obviously accidental, he said.
Ludeke said he "spoke to Todd afterwards" and had acknowledged there was nothing in the incident.
The Bulls arrived at their Clearwater hotel base at 1am yesterday. Captain Pierre Spies and his team-mates had a pool session at Papanui's Graham Condon Recreation and Sport Centre yesterday afternoon "just to get the muscles going again", Ludeke said.
No South African team has won a match in Christchurch since 1996 - Super Rugby's first season - and the odds are always stacked for sides required to travel across the Indian Ocean for playoff assignments.
But Ludeke said there would be "no excuses" from the Bulls camp and Super Rugby teams were used to dealing with the travel factor.
"We don't want to give it any energy. We would just like to be successful on Saturday. It's a huge task playing against a good side, [who are] playing at home. Obviously the plan must be in place, execution for 80 minutes, that's what we are after."
The Bulls have met the Crusaders three times in playoff matches in South Africa since 2007 and won them all. But Ludeke said that was "history". "The only thing that counts is what happens for the 80 minutes on Saturday. It's knockout rugby, it's about mentally [which] teams can apply pressure and absorb pressure.
"We know [the Crusaders] can do that. We know we need an all-round performance and go for 80 minutes."
Ludeke wasn't rubbing his hands together in glee at All Blacks ace Kieran Read's absence from the back of the Crusaders scrum.
"He's a fine player, obviously a huge part of the Crusaders. But when someone's out of the team, it's amazing how someone else slots in and takes the position."
South African referee Jaco Peyper, 32, will be in charge at AMI Stadium on Saturday.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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