Bulls ignoring Crusaders confidence doubt
Bulls coach Frans Ludeke rejects the talk that the Crusaders are past their best and no longer the Super Rugby force they once were.
And strangely enough for the South African coach, it's not the first time in the past 12 months he has had to jump to the defence of the very side he is aiming to beat.
Upon arrival for a Super Rugby playoff match last year against the Crusaders in Christchurch, the country was abuzz that the champion side were serial cheats who influenced the referee.
He told media that he had a "huge respect" for the Crusaders as a side and that "on and off the field, they conduct themselves very well, they're trendsetters in a lot of phases in the game".
And this week, when he arrived at the Clearwater Resort, he yet again went into bat for Todd Blackadder and his men following speculation by a Fairfax columnist that the Crusaders' position at the top of Super Rugby was ending.
"The Crusaders are a fantastic franchise and have set the benchmark in Super Rugby for a long time," he said.
"We can't afford to consider the fact they might not be the team they once were.
"It is when you start believing things like that, where you get yourself in trouble.
"We know they still have the ability, and as a team we have been in that place before where the media are writing you off."
Despite the off-the-field talk, Ludeke's main concern is his strong desire to maintain a winning run while in New Zealand after demoralising the Blues last weekend in Auckland.
And that means facing a hapless Crusaders on their home turf tomorrow night - a challenge which any Super Rugby coach would be foolish to take lightly.
Blackadder's men are scorned.
They were taken apart by the Blues in much the same manner they were in turn destroyed by the Bulls last week and then they grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory last weekend against the Hurricanes.
And Ludeke, who will be attempting to coach the first South African team to win in Christchurch since Super Rugby's birth year of 1996, is fully aware of the mountain ahead of him.
"There is a good reason no South African team has won here for a long time," he said.
"Playing the Crusaders in Christchurch is very tough, they lift their game at home to another level.
"We are aware that in order to beat them this weekend we will need to do everything right.
"Our discipline must be perfect and, like last week, we will need a full team performance.
"Last week was a close contest for them [Crusaders], they were in control but a couple of small things cost them.
"You can't read too much into that, though, this is a long competition and there have only been two weeks for them."
He stopped short of saying it still haunted his dreams every night but Ludeke was clearly still hurting from the playoff bashing they copped in Christchurch last year.
The Crusaders bashed the Bulls off the park with brute force and sent their key playmakers into a tail-spin which rendered them useless for almost 80 minutes of rugby.
"We must focus on our game this time and our own processes, or they will do it to us again," he said.
"Last year's match was a performance we would like to forget, ill-discipline let us down."
- © Fairfax NZ News
Which two NZ teams look the most likely to make the Super Rugby playoffs?