Preview: Crusaders v Lions

Date published: March 13 2015

Desperate to turn what has been a disappointing start to the season around, the Crusaders won't leave anything to chance when they host the Lions in Christchurch on Saturday.

For the Lions, who surprised all when they recorded their first win in New Zealand since 2011 last week, it will again be a case of trying to defy the odds – although this time they will attempt to rewrite the history books with a certain amount of momentum on their side.

The Crusaders have enjoyed a week away from the action and there is no doubt that this time they would have worked tirelessly to rectify the mistakes that contributed to the humiliating loss they suffered to the Chiefs in their last outing.

For a team that is always in the running when the business end of the season comes around, a defeat to the Lions at home would be devastating to their play-off ambitions.

Such a loss is very unlikely although it must be said that the sales in humble pie sky-rocketed after the Johannesburg side outlasted the Blues in Auckland last week.

The Crusaders currently have the best scrum in the competition, having won 96 percent of their own ball and that strength will be tested by a team that also takes great pride in their set-phase play.

The Lions have, however, been the least successful of all teams when it comes to breaking through the defensive lines of their opponents and have subsequently struggled to get over the try line.

Both sides will be eager to improve and on that front and Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder feels that it all starts with the attitude his men need to display on the field.

"Teams don't respect us and that's why they feel they can take us on around the ruck, through the middle or through the edges," Blackadder said in the build-up to the Round Five hit-out.

"At lot of that is to do with outright character and attitude. Our guys have to work harder for each other but I am pretty confident from what I have seen this week that we can turn this around rather quickly."

With his team’s first win under the belt after three home losses, Lions coach Johan Ackermann admitted that the mood in his camp has changed, although the mentor was not blind to the reality of the challenge that lies ahead.

"Sure, the Crusaders have battled a bit in the early rounds, but they've got quality players and will beat some big teams in the weeks ahead," said Ackermann.

"I don't think we must read anything into their first three games. They're getting a few quality All Blacks players back this week so it’s going to be a massive challenge to face them on their home ground."

The last time these team met: Although the Lions showed some mettle in the 28-7 defeat they suffered against the seven-time champions in Johannesburg last year, they ran out of steam towards the end of the match. The Crusaders capitalised on the lack of discipline their by their opponents and were far more accurate in defence.

Players to watch: While one man on his does not always make that big a difference the combination of Kieran Read, Sam Whitelock and Dan Carter should have a huge impact on the way the Crusaders play. A key man for the Lions will be prop Julian Redelinghuys while pivot Elton Jantjies would also like to prove his worth against the All Black-loaded side.

Team news: While the Lions only tweaked their bench, Blackadder used the blowtorch as he made no less than nine changes to his team. With Read back captaining the side, the additions of Whitelock and Carter bring even more experience to the squad. As an added bonus, last year’s top try-scorer Nemani Nadolo will also make his return.

Form: The Crusaders usually only wake-up around this time of the season, but will still be very concerned that they have only one win to show in from their first three outings. They should, however, be a completely different beast playing in front of their home crowd for the first time this season. The Lions banked their first win in four outings last week, but have struggled to score tries and will continue to struggle if they do not change their possession orientated mindset.

Predictions: Fuming from the embarrassment suffered in their last match, the Crusaders should come out guns blazing and are likely to run the Lions ragged. Should the visitors show some structure in defence – particularly in broken play situations – they can limit the damage.  Crusaders by 10 points.

Previous results:
2014: Crusaders won 28-7 in Johannesburg
2012: Crusaders won 23-13 in Johannesburg
2010 Crusaders won 46-19 in Christchurch
2009: Crusaders won 32-20 in Johannesburg
2008: Crusaders won 31-6 in Christchurch

The teams:

Crusaders: 15 Tom Taylor, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Dan Carter, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Richie McCaw, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Luke Whitelock, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Kieron Fonotia, 23 David Havili

Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Sampie Mastriet, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley (captain), 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Martin Muller, 4 Franco Mostert, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Corne Fourie.
Replacements: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Andries Ferreira, 20 Derick Minnie, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Marnitz Boshoff, 23 Howard Mnisi

Date: Saturday, March 14
Venue: AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Kick-off: 16:30 local (03:30 GMT; 05:30 SAST; 14:30 AEDT)
Referee: Nick Briant (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Ben O’Keeffe, Paul Williams