PRETORIA — Resurgent Bulls and Springbok left wing Bryan Habana is being touted as a key danger man by New Zealand critics in the lead-up to the Super 14 final against the Chiefs on Saturday.
And his one-on-one with Chiefs flyer Lelia Masaga at Loftus could be decisive to the outcome.
So says the Waikato Times, the leading newspaper in the maiden Super 14 finalists’ region, on Tuesday.
Writer Duncan Johnstone noted of Habana’s semi-final showing against the Crusaders: “The speedy Habana has a roving role with the Bulls and was dangerous every time he touched the ball – the brilliant left wing showed his instincts when he popped up on the opposite side of the field and from close to a ruck broke the Crusaders’ line off a Fourie du Preez pass to score unopposed next to the posts.”
He said Habana would have a “massive” personal match-up with Masaga in the final.
“Habana will have to contain twinkle-toed Masaga who has been in outstanding form with his own elusive running game that is also based around a licence to roam.”
The 22-year-old has not been prolific in the try-scoring department of late, although he dotted down in four of the first five Chiefs games this year and is fully recovered after an injury.
With explosive, more experienced team-mate Sitiveni Sivivatu out with a dislocated shoulder, a decent showing on the fast-paced Loftus pitch against world-class Habana could catapult Masaga into the All Blacks squad to be named after the Super 14 showpiece.
Meanwhile, the ever-outspoken Chris Rattue, writing in national daily The New Zealand Herald, nailed his prediction colours very firmly to the mast this week: “Hail the mighty Bulls as Super 14 champions because the Chiefs have no chance of winning the final in Pretoria.
“Fog may have descended on the Hamilton semi-final (Chiefs v Hurricanes) but the final scenario is as clear as a South African summer’s day. The home side should be unbackable favourites for their second title in three years.”
Rattue said the final would reveal the strengths and weaknesses of the Super 14 tournament.
“Loftus is a magnificent theatre, a cliff-face of support for the home troops and such a graveyard for visiting teams that even the cynical Crusaders couldn’t defend a substantial semi-final lead.
“The continued Super presence of rugby-rich South Africa, who future participation has hung in the balance, is essential on one hand because it gives the tournament a wonderful international flavour.
“Yet the travel factor, including the late arrangements which are necessary in (the knockout phase) means one team may be seriously disadvantaged to the point that the final is a serious mismatch.”
Meanwhile, a certain faction of the New Zealand media have implied that South Africans are up to their “old tricks” again.
This follows the revelation that the Chiefs were “kicked out” of their hotel in Pretoria — this happens to be the same hotel the Boks were staying for the duration of their training at the University of Pretoria.
The reports said that a double booking this week made it necessary for the Chiefs to move to another hotel.
It turned out that the double booking was an administrative error made by SANZAR.
The Chiefs will take on the Bulls on Saturday in the Super 14 final at Loftus while the South Africans will play a Namibian XV side in Windhoek on Friday night.
The New Zealanders were already on their way to South Africa when they were told about the double booking at the Holiday Inn in Beatrix Street, Pretoria.
On Monday afternoon when the Chiefs arrived, they booked in at the Sheraton, a five-star hotel near the Union Buildings.
The Waikato Times reported on its website that there is a quite a bit of suspicion about the double booking.
The “old tricks” to which the newspaper is referring is apparently the conspiracy theory which supposedly led to a certain Suzie “poisoning” the All Blacks before the 1995 World Cup final against the Boks.
New Zealand’s renowned rugby writer, Duncan Johnstone, made it very clear that there is “suspicion in the air” on a website.
Other reports suggested that Pretoria “is a city of limited alternatives”.
However, Gary Dawson, chief executive of the Chiefs, has said the team is “quite satisfied” with the Sheraton hotel and the Chiefs’ training sessions are being carried out without any disruptions.