Preview: Crusaders v Bulls

Getty Images     19 Jul 2012     Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: AMI Stadium, Christchurch, Saturday July 21 @ 1935

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 21; Crusaders 12, Bulls 9.

LAST TIME: April 7, 2012 (Pretoria, round 7) - Bulls 32-30 Crusaders.

WALKING WOUNDED: Todd Blackadder's only injury concern centred around No 8 Kieran Read, who was still battling to overcome a rib problem sustained against the Hurricanes three weeks back. In the end Read was ruled unfit, so the Crusaders retain the same 22 that did duty last week, although Wyatt Crockett, Sam Whitelock and Robbie Fruean have all been promoted to the run-on XV after bench roles last week. The Bulls welcome lock Flip van der Merwe back after he has battled niggling injuries lately, and the Bok lock is the only different face in the starting lineup. Wilhelm Steenkamp drops back to the bench and CJ Stander leaves the 22.

Round 14: bye
Round 15: beat Highlanders 51-18 (h)
Round 16: lost to Hurricanes 22-23 (h)
Round 17: beat Chiefs 28-21 (a)
Round 18: beat Force 38-24 (h)

Round 14: lost to Chiefs 22-28 (a)
Round 15: lost to Stormers 14-19 (h)
Round 16: beat Cheetahs 40-24 (h)
Round 17: lost to Sharks 10-32 (a)
Round 18: beat Lions 37-20 (h)

The Crusaders did what they had to do a week back, beating the Force to secure fourth place. That was the best they could do in the competition, and there was little doubt they would achieve that goal. Aided by a couple of debatable TMO calls, they got off to a flying start and the match was decided by halftime when the Crusaders led 32-3. The performance fell away in the second spell without Richie McCaw and Daniel Carter on the field - both were replaced at halftime - but it was obvious that if Blackadder needed them for longer they would have stayed out there until the task was completed. So far the Crusaders have not rediscovered that overwhelming form from just prior to the break, but they were efficient enough in getting their last two wins.

After losing three in a row before the break and getting solidly thumped by the Sharks, Pretoria's finest ground through the first half against the lowly Lions to go into the sheds at 20-20. That, however, was as close as the Lions got; the Bulls slowly moved away and, despite not needing it to qualify, they picked up a bonus point as well. Despite the win there was little compelling evidence that the Bulls have hit the playoffs running. They have not beaten a fellow contender since round 7, and if you take out the first hour against the Cheetahs, they have not dominated anyone in a couple of months. Throw the travel in, and the Bulls have a battle on their hands.

WHO'S HOT: With the exception of the injured Read, the Crusaders have named their strongest pack after using a rotation policy among the tight five all year. Owen Franks is recognised as a powerhouse by everyone around the rugby world, and he gets a chance to work out against two strong opponents. How he gets on will have a big impact - psychological as much as anything - on the game. Sam Whitelock is another who has impressed throughout 2012 and his work, both aerial and in the trenches, will be a core part of the Crusaders performance. So far he has been one of the most reliable performers across the competition. As ever, Daniel Carter will be the key backline figure and his ability to dictate terms and tempo will allow the Crusaders to play their game. Perhaps the one thing he will be looking to improve is his goal-kicking, as 68 percent is off his normal pace, but there are plenty of examples of how he gets it right on the big occasions and the Bulls cannot count on him missing too many important kicks.

The Bulls will have to match a near-test strength Crusaders pack, and pressure will come on Werner Kruger to provide a solid scrum platform. He will need to be at his best - which is normally very good - in this match and his effectiveness around the paddock cannot be limited by his attention to the tight work, which is a big ask for anyone. Another who must step to the front is Pierre Spies, since he supplies much of the team's gain-line go-forward. Often accused of being a flat-track bully and ineffective in big games, Spies needs a performance with ball in hand that will quiet the critics and trouble the defence (or vice versa). Behind the scrum Morne Steyn will naturally be the focus of attention, as he is every bit as important to the Bulls as Carter is for the home side. His goal-kicking has been somewhat hot and cold, although 225 points tells of his effectiveness, but his ability to steer the team in a tough match will be equally as important and the game could well be won or lost in the battle at 10.

WE THINK: While these teams have a strong rivalry and results are fairly even over time, the playoff battles tell a different story. In four previous meetings the home team has won convincingly each time - the narrowest playoff margin is 13 points - and there's no reason to believe this trend will not continue on Saturday. Try as one might, it's hard to find any area the Bulls have a decided advantage; therefore expect the Crusaders to take it by 15 points or so.

Crusaders: 1. Wyatt Crockett, 2. Corey Flynn, 3. Owen Franks, 4. Luke Romano, 5. Sam Whitelock, 6. George Whitelock, 7. Matt Todd, 8. Richie McCaw (capt), 9. Andy Ellis, 10. Daniel Carter, 11. Zac Guildford, 12. Ryan Crotty, 13. Robbie Fruean, 14. Adam Whitelock, 15. Israel Dagg.

Replacements: 16. Quentin MacDonald, 17. Ben Franks, 18. Tom Donnelly, 19. Luke Whitelock, 20. Willi Heinz, 21. Tom Taylor, 22. Sean Maitland.

Bulls: 1. Dean Greyling, 2. Chiliboy Ralepelle, 3. Werner Kruger, 4. Flip van der Merwe, 5. Juandre Kruger, 6. Dewald Potgieter, 7. Jacques Potgieter, 8. Pierre Spies (capt), 9. Francois Hougaard, 10. Morne Steyn, 11. Bjorn Basson, 12. Wynand Olivier, 13. JJ Engelbrecht, 14. Akona Ndungane, 15. Zane Kirchner.

Replacements: 16. Willie Wepener, 17. Frik Kirsten, 18. Deon Stegmann, 19. Wilhelm Steenkamp, 20. Jano Vermaak, 21. Louis Fouche, 22. Francois Venter.

REFEREE: Jaco Peyper (SA)