ACT Brumbies' mission improbable in Pretoria
The Brumbies aren't kidding themselves about the size of their task as they prepare for one of the toughest challenges in their history in the Super Rugby semi-final against the Bulls in Pretoria.
A seasoned opposition that has proved nigh unbeatable at home, a notoriously hostile Loftus Versfeld stadium crowd with a score to settle with the Brumbies' South African-born coach Jake White, the 1214m altitude and jetlag.
It adds up to a daunting assignment for the underdog Brumbies who flew out on Monday after struggling to their 15-13 preliminary final qualifying final win over the Cheetahs in Canberra on Sunday.
The stats tell the story.
The Bulls have won 22 out of 24 of their home games against Trans-Tasman teams over the past five years and haven't lost to the Brumbies at Loftus since 2006.
The three-time Super Rugby champions have also won all five of their home finals matches, two of which were played at Orlando Stadium, Soweto, because of 2010 FIFA World Cup.
Adding to the Brumbies' challenge, White - who coached the Springboks to win the 2007 Rugby World Cup - stirred the hornets nest last week when he said that Australian rugby players are smarter than their South African rivals.
When White was asked this week whether his side would embrace the week in South Africa head-on, he replied tongue-in-cheek: "They (the players) will go out, I will probably stay in my room."
He said the week preparing for the semi-final in South Africa would be an experience his young team would likely never forget.
"It doesn't get bigger for this group of players than a semi-final at Loftus. I've heard it's a sell-out crowd with 50,000 to 60,000 expected," White said.
"It's going to be tough. Let's not kid ourselves. We're flying now to the other side of the world and playing in country where rugby is one, two and three as their (favourite) code."
However the Brumbies will take heart from several factors.
Not only did they beat the Bulls in Canberra in round seven, but they also played their best game of rugby this year in South Africa when they ambushed last year's Super Rugby runners-up the Sharks with four first half tries.
"Who knows? Maybe we'll do the same thing," said White.
"There's no reason why - if we prepare properly - that we can't give ourselves a crack at getting a result."