Super 15 - Crusaders take momentum into Super Rugby semis

Canterbury Crusaders will be out to prove that momentum is a more powerful force than home advantage when they travel to Hamilton to face the defending champions Waikato Chiefs in a Super Rugby semi-final this weekend.


Like the Chiefs, South Africa's Bulls are hoping the home stadium as fortress concept will hold true when they welcome Australia's ACT Brumbies to Loftus Versfeld in Saturday's other match to decide who competes for the title on Aug. 3.

The Chiefs are the least decorated team of the four with only last year's title under their belts, but it was the five-try 43-15 hammering they suffered at the hands of the Crusaders in Christchurch just three weeks ago that has made them underdogs.

Chiefs coach Dave Rennie has made seven changes from the side that beat the Auckland Blues in their last outing and is content with that status going into what will be another intense, physical encounter at Waikato Stadium.

"I think most of the country is writing us off, which is not a bad thing, but we're happy with where we're heading and we've got a pretty happy bunch who are keen to make amends from the last time we played them," he said this week.

"We get to play them at home in front of a big crowd ... we know we were caught short, especially from an intensity point of view, so we can change that quickly because we can control that."

To say the seven-times champion Crusaders have momentum is something of an understatement after five successive wins culminating in last week's 38-9 demolition of the 2011 champion Queensland Reds.

Flyhalf Dan Carter is back nailing place-kicks for fun and pulling the strings behind a pack so strong that three-times World Player of the Year Richie McCaw will again be used as an impact player coming off the bench.

While the Crusaders stormed into the semis, the Brumbies squeaked past the Cheetahs 15-13 in Canberra last week in their first post-season outing since they won the second of their two titles in 2004.

They face probably the toughest assignment of the weekend against the Bulls, who won the competition in 2007, 2009 and 2010 and have triumphed in their three previous home semi-finals - all against Crusaders.

Bulls coach Frans Ludeke has included fit-again centre Jan Serfontein and scrumhalf Francois Hougaard in his starting side.

The Springbok duo have recovered from the injuries that kept them out of the final regular season fixture against the Stormers in Cape Town two weeks ago which resulted in a first loss in 10 matches.

Their last defeat prior to that was a 23-20 reversal to the Brumbies in Canberra in March.

Serfontein replaces Francois Venter in the midfield and Hougaard's inclusion comes at the expense of Jano Vermaak, a veteran of 103 Super Rugby matches, who will move to the bench.

"We certainly respect the Brumbies as an opponent," Ludeke told reporters on Wednesday. "But this match will be about us and our ability and drive to make them play the game at our tempo and to our game plan. For that we will need to be accurate and execute the big plays well."

Much will therefore depend on the form and place-kicking of flyhalf Morne Steyn, who will play a franchise record 123rd, and potentially last, Super Rugby game before he joins Stade Francais in October.

As a former Springboks coach, Jake White knows exactly what his unchanged Brumbies side can expect in Pretoria.

"The Bulls present us with a huge challenge this weekend. We know they will play through their forwards and use Morne to finish with points," he said.

"They have a good record here at Loftus and for our players to experience running on in front of a full house of more than 50,000 people will be fantastic.

"They are a typical South African side, very big and physical with some quality finishers out wide so it's up to our players to combat that with our own game."

Having finished top of the regular season standings, the Chiefs will host the final if they can get past the Crusaders. If the Crusaders win in Hamilton, the will travel to play the winner of the Pretoria clash.

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