Preview: Crusaders v Stormers

Date published: March 7 2014

The Crusaders host the Stormers in Christchurch on Saturday with both sides already under pressure early on in the tournament.

The Crusaders host the Stormers in Christchurch on Saturday with both sides already under pressure early on in the tournament.

They have made underwhelming starts to the season with the Crusaders yet to secure a victory after two games while the Stormers, despite having one victory from their two fixtures, are yet to convince their detractors that they are genuine contenders for the title.

Although the Crusaders are at the bottom of the Super Rugby table and despite the loss of All Blacks captain Richie McCaw, who is out of action for eight weeks with a broken thumb, it's still early in the competition and the seven-times champions are notoriously slow starters.

But they are determined to get their 2014 show on the road and the Christchurch-based outfit's assistant coach Dave Hewett said the manner in which the Crusaders gave up a convincing lead in last weekend's loss to the Blues was thoroughly unlike a team which has won seven championships.

He said the Crusaders' coaches and players were trying to respond calmly to the failures that performance has highlighted.

“Yes, you can get angry and we are angry and they (the players) are angry,” explained Hewett.

“They are all angry with themselves and they are angry with their performance.

The Crusaders hold a psychological edge over the Stormers having won 14 of the previous 18 matches between these two franchises. Adding to that, they have never lost to the Stormers in Christchurch which makes the visitors' task more daunting.

The Stormers didn't impress in their 19-18 victory over the Hurricanes in Cape Town and know they have to deliver a much-improved performance if they want to change their dismal record in Christchurch.

Apart from their poor form in Christchurch, South African teams in general have failed to inspire against the Crusaders since 1996. Out of the 44 matches hosted by the Crusaders against teams from the Republic, they've lost twice and drawn twice.

That equates to a winning percentage of a staggering 91 percent, which is by far the best of any team against foreign opposition. The average score between the Crusaders and South African opposition over this period is 37-19, with the New Zealanders scoring four tries to two on average.

Stormers captain Jean de Villers knows that a victory this weekend will be a big boost for his side on their overseas tour, which also includes games against the Chiefs, Brumbies and Reds, who, like the Crusaders, have all won the tournament already.

The men from the Cape suffered a shock defeat to the Lions in their opener before their narrow win over the Hurricanes. An area of concern is their back-line play which has lacked imagination at the best of times.

Despite that, they possess potent attackers in De Villiers, Gio Aplon and Jaco Taute, who could swing the course of a match with moments of brilliance. They also know that the Crusaders' poor start to the season presents them with an ideal opportunity to break their duck in Christchurch.

Prediction: The men from Christchurch might have made a slow start but they'll turn the corner this weekend. Crusaders to win by six points!

The teams:

Crusaders: 15 Colin Slade, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Reynold Lee-Lo, 12 Ryan Crotty (vc), 11 Israel Dagg, 10 Tom Taylor, 9 Willi Heinz, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Luke Whitelock, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Tim Perry, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Dominic Bird, 20 Jordan Taufua, 21 Andy Ellis, 22 Tyler Bleyendaal, 23 Kieron Fonotia.

Stormers: 15 Jaco Taute, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Jean de Villiers (c), 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Gio Aplon, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Deon Fourie, 5 De Kock Steenkamp, 4 Michael Rhodes, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Tiaan Liebenberg, 17 Oliver Kebble, 18 Pat Cilliers, 19 Ruan Botha, 20 Nizaam Carr, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Peter Grant, 23 Sailosi Tagicakibau.

Date: Saturday, March 8
Kick-off: 19:35 local (06:35 GMT)
Venue: AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Referee: Rohan Hoffmann (Australia)
Assistant referees: Glen Jackson (New Zealand), Ben O'Keefe (New Zealand)
Television match official: Chris Watt (New Zealand)