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Crusaders seek first Pretoria win since 2008

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Lynn McConnell     05 May 2017     Getty Images

Even the home team have the Crusaders as favourites and home centre Burger Odendaal, who made his debut against the Crusaders in a man-of-the-match performance two years ago, told local media: "It is always better to go into the game as underdogs and at the moment nobody is giving us a chance. They have everything to lose and we are just going out there to play. The pressure is on them."
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Coach Scott Robertson said: "We haven't beaten them there [Loftus Versfeld] since 2008, they've just had the bye, they've got a number of Springboks sprinkled through their team, they're desperate and our intel tells us it will be a tough match.

"It will be more of a physical contest, they don't throw the ball around with the style of the Cheetahs but they are a passionate team with a lot of history, especially against the Crusaders," he said.

Varied as the Bulls season has been, the Crusaders have to compensate for the loss of captain and lock Sam Whitelock, whose leadership this year had been significant.

Crusaders coach Scott Robertson said there was no appeal over Whitelock's suspension and that was based on precedent where appeals had not been very successful.

"They made it clear that the two weeks was down from four and that was as good as it was going to get," he said.

Whitelock is already back in New Zealand having flown out with injured All Blacks captain Kieran Read on Tuesday.

Robertson was confident there would be minimal disruption to the lineout in Whitelock's absence. Luke Romano and Scott Barrett were both All Blacks and while Whitelock was a big part of their lineout approach they had trained during the year with the prospect that he might not be available at times and that was where they were this week.

It was why they had rotated the locks during the season and the game was a chance for Barrett to play at No.6 in the lineout.

They had also done a lot of work with Quentin Strange before leaving New Zealand in case he got a call-up and he had arrived this week and settled in quickly.

Robertson said naming Tim Bateman at second five-eighths ahead of Ryan Crotty, who is on the bench, was a case of wanting to change their approach a little and while Crotty had been in good touch for the side he would be making an impact when coming off the bench.

It was similar with the choice of Mitchell Drummond at halfback. Given the style they wanted to play, Drummond was preferred to start this week ahead of Bryn Hall. No halfback in the competition could play the entire game these days because of the workload they carried and sometimes players could offer more to the plan when coming off the bench.

"We are fortunate to have two classy halfbacks," he said.

With the conjecture surrounding Hurricanes and All Blacks No.1 hooker Dane Coles availability for the Lions' Tests, Robertson said he was happy with how back-up hooker Codie Taylor was playing.

He had shown his ability during the season, his lineout throwing was top class and what impressed him more was his leadership role off the field.

"He's playing like an All Black hooker so for us he is very important," he said.

The All Blacks selectors had a policy of preparing players for opportunities when they occurred and he had every faith that Taylor could step into the role if required.

Fullback David Havili said he had been enjoying the opportunities he had received this year, the team culture was good and that was being reflected on the field.

While playing fullback was new to him having Leon MacDonald on the coaching group had helped him out, especially in relation to positional play.

Having played at Loftus Versfeld when coming on as a replacement in the 2015 loss, Havili was well aware of the way the crowd ensured it was a hostile atmosphere, especially when the home team was getting on top.

However, he felt if the Crusaders could move the big home players around and get to achieve their own dominance it would go a long toward quietening the crowd.