SYDNEY, February 18- The ACT Brumbies, reinforced by Wallaby stars Matt Giteau and Rocky Elsom, will prove whether they are a genuine title threat when they take on defending Super 14 champions Northern Bulls this weekend.The two-time winners have assembled arguably the strongest playing squad in Australian provincial rugby with the recruitment of Wallaby flanker Elsom and playmaker Giteau, but they face an early moment of truth in Pretoria on Saturday.
The Bulls, who smashed the Central Cheetahs 51-34 last weekend, have not lost at home since a 22-50 reverse to the Wellington Hurricanes in April 2008, and have won their last five home games against Australian teams.
But the Brumbies, opening round winners against the Western Force, look a stronger outfit this season and they have won nine of 14 previous matches against the Bulls, including three wins in South Africa.
"The Bulls at Loftus Versfeld present a significant challenge for any side in the competition," Brumbies’ coach Andy Friend said.
"We certainly need to be more physical in the contest and I think Rocky will help us achieve that."
The Bulls will be without injured pair Jaco Pretorius and Dewald Potgieter, meaning Bulls coach Frans Ludeke will have to tamper with a winning combination.
"We have great respect for Giteau yet we will not concentrate on individuals but rather on the entire defensive structure and how we must defend as a unit," Ludeke said.
The seven-time Super rugby champions Canterbury Crusaders are wary of the Queensland Reds in Brisbane on Friday after the Reds’ last-minute loss to the NSW Waratahs last weekend.
The Reds, under new coach Ewen McKenzie, led by 10 points with seven minutes left but the Waratahs squeaked home with a last-ditch converted try.
"They’re a big, tough, physical side," Crusaders’ coach Todd Blackadder said. "They are raw, hungry and dangerous and if we’re not on our game we’ll get tipped over."
The New Zealanders have won their last 11 games against the Reds and on their last six visits to Brisbane, but the matches in Australia have generally been tight with five of the Crusaders’ six wins by margins of eight points or less.
"The Crusaders are the sort of team you have to go through," McKenzie said.
"You don’t run around the Crusaders, you have to bend their defensive line and that’s what we’ll be aiming to do."
Blackadder has resisted making any changes to the starting line-up after last week’s 32-17 home win over the Otago Highlanders.
Former Emerging Springbok lock Hendrik Roodt could make his Super 14 debut for the Waratahs in his homeland on Saturday against the Western Stormers in Cape Town.
Roodt has been named on the reserves bench as the Waratahs have been forced to replace suspended Wallaby flanker Dean Mumm with Ben Mowen and Kane Douglas for injured lock Cam Jowitt.
The Waratahs perform well at Newlands with three wins and a 13-13 draw the last time the two teams met there two years ago.
Coastal Sharks captain and Springbok John Smit will earn his 100th Super rugby cap against the Cheetahs in Durban on Saturday.
Elsewhere this weekend, the Highlanders host the Auckland Blues in Dunedin, the Golden Lions take on last season’s finalists Waikato Chiefs in Johannesburg and the Hurricanes face the Western Force in Wellington.