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Preview: Crusaders v Bulls

15th March 2013 06:02

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bulls v crusaders 2012

Home comforts: The winless Crusaders host the unbeaten Bulls

Defeat won't be an option for the Crusaders when the winless Kiwi outfit tackle the unbeaten Bulls in Christchurch on Saturday.

It's not often the seven-time Super Rugby champions enter the fourth round seeking their first victory of the tournament. But an opening round bye followed by back-to-back defeats to the Blues and Hurricanes has left last year's semi-finalists occupying ninth spot on the overall standings.

The last time they lost their first two matches, was in 2005.

The class of 2013 are packed to the rafters with All Blacks, but have yet to look anything like the most successful team in Super Rugby history and will be desperate to make amends.

On the other end of the scale, the second-placed Bulls are one of only three unbeaten teams in the competition and riding a wave of confidence following last Sunday's impressive win over the Blues and their first at Eden Park.

It doesn't get any easier for either side, with the Crusaders' home ground advantage counting in the hosts' favour as the Bulls will once again have to rewrite the history books if they wish to retain their winning record.

The three-time champions have never beaten the Crusaders in their own back yard since 1996 (in the competition's first year when they won under the banner of Northern Transvaal) and a victory in the Garden City will ensure their first consecutive triumph over New Zealand teams on tour following that historic win over the Blues last week.

Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder knows the Bulls will be confident of removing the Christchurch bogey, and has preperared accordingly in is expected to be a near Test-like encounter.

"They play a game with a lot of box kicks so we've got to be able to take those high balls and use that ball to counter-attack. They haven't changed their game plan in the last five years and we're not expecting anything different from them," he said.

"All week we've been catching the high balls and we've got a couple of new tackling techniques to try out as they're very direct and push a lot of players straight."

However, Bulls skipper Pierre Spies begs to differ with the former Crusaders lock and said after winning the competition three times since 2007 with the same kick-chase style of play it was time to evolve and add new dimensions to their attack - as seen in their three-try win in Auckland.

"I guess we'd like to vary our game a bit and also make use of opportunities we are given. You've got to have a complete game if you want to win the competition," he said.

"And you've got to focus on your strengths also. Some days certain things work for you and other days they don't; that's why you need to be able to play in all areas of the field."

Prediction: The Crusaders are desperate for a win and can't afford another loss, which spells trouble for the Bulls who will find their next Kiwi opponents a lot more tougher than the Blues combination they met last week. No doubt the Bulls will give it horns, but we just can't picture the Crusaders losing three in a row. Can you? Crusaders by 10!

The teams:

Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Tom Marshall, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Johnny McNicholl, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Dominic Bird, 4 Sam Whitelock, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Tom Donnelly, 19 Luke Whitelock, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Tyler Bleyendaal, 22 Adam Whitelock.

Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Jürgen Visser, 10 Mornè Steyn, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Pierre Spies (c), 7 Arno Botha, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Juandrè Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Frik Kirsten, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 Mornè Mellett.
Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Werner Kruger, 18 Grant Hattingh, 19 Jacques Potgieter, 20 Francois Hougaard, 21 Louis Fouché, 22 Jan Serfontein.

Date: Saturday, March 16
Venue: AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Kick-off: 19:35 (06:35 GMT)
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Nick Briant (New Zealand), Kane McBride (New Zealand)
Television match official: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)

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