Preview: Bulls v Crusaders
Thursday, April 5, 2012 Sportal.co.nz Getty Images
HEAD TO HEAD: Played 20; Bulls/Northern Transvaal 8, Crusaders 12.
LAST TIME: April 9, 2011 (Timaru) – Crusaders 27-0 Bulls.
WALKING WOUNDED: With Dan Carter back on deck and getting through a good run last week in the win over the Lions, it is only All Blacks captain Richie McCaw that is yet to return to the fray. He may do so by round eight, depending on how well his foot is recovering from off-season surgery. The Bulls lost flanker Deon Stegman for the defeat at the hands of the Stormers and have Dewald Potgeiter (arm) and Lionel Cronje (pectoral) still out as well.
Round 2: beat Cheetahs 51-19 (a)
Round 3: lost to Blues 23-29 (h)
Round 4: bye
Round 5: beat Reds 61-8 (h)
Round 6: lost to Stormers 17-20 (a)
Round 2: lost to Highlanders 24-27 (a)
Round 3: lost to Chiefs 19-24 (h)
Round 4: bye
Round 5: beat Cheetahs 28-21 (h)
Round 6: beat Lions 23-13 (a)
The Bulls are a strange beast in 2012 – they clobbered the Cheetahs 51-19 and the Reds 61-8 but lost at home to the hapless Blues and couldn't get up over the Stormers last week either. There is plenty of talent and steel about the 2010 champions but they are yet to prove themselves as genuine contenders this year. Beat the Crusaders and they'll go one step further to silencing any doubters.
Speaking of doubters, the Crusaders have a few thanks to a stunted two-win, two-loss record so far. When you consider the two victories are over the Cheetahs and Lions, two perennials easy-beats (although the latter was on South African soil) there is just as many questions being asked about the red-and-black heavyweights. Their 23-13 victory over the Lions was one that had to be achieved after a halftime deficit. But only a fool counts out the Crusaders at any stage with Carter inching towards better form with every match and McCaw to return, they are well capable of coming home with a wet sail. They have only scored eight tries in five matches and whilst that is a concern, they'll take a win in Pretoria any way they can.
WHO'S HOT: The Bulls are getting good service from their Springboks in the likes of captain Pierre Spies, halfback Francois Hougaard and midfielder Wynand Olivier although they will hope first five-eighth Morne Steyn finds his radar before too long. The Bulls could be in a better position on the table if Steyn's usually dead-eye radar had not been so wonky this season.
Back in his best position at fullback, Israel Dagg is the ace in the Crusaders' pack. His delightfully-weighted kick set up a second half try for wing Sean Maitland last weekend and wrestled the initiative back to his side. Dagg is starting to find his best form after a superb World Cup campaign and with Maitland and Zac Guildford out wide, opposition outfits need to be very careful with the sort of ball they turn over. Others No.9s receive more plaudits but it's arguable whether any are adept at doing the dirty work like Andy Ellis is. Aaron Smith is all the rage these days in terms of New Zealand halfbacks but Ellis could Steve Hansen's go-to man come the visit of Ireland.
WE THINK: The Crusaders haven't been at their best this season and they'll need to be if they're going to come away with at least four competition points from Loftus Versfeld. A tight encounter is the likely scenario and given they have won six of the last eight matches in the Republic, the leaning is just towards the Bulls as the team to move one step closer to another post-season campaign.
Bulls: 1. Dean Greyling, 2. Chiliboy Ralepelle, 3. Werner Kruger, 4. Flip van der Merwe, 5. Juandre Kruger, 6. CJ Stander, 7. Jacques Potgieter, 8. Pierre Spies (capt), 9. Francois Hougaard, 10. Morne Steyn, 11. Bjorn Basson, 12. Wynand Olivier, 13. Johann Sadie, 14. Akona Ndungane, 15. Zane Kirchner.
Replacements: 16. Bongi Mbonambi, 17. Frik Kirsten, 18. Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19. Arno Botha, 20. Jano Vermaak, 21. Louis Fouche, 22. JJ Engelbrecht.
Crusaders: 1. Wyatt Crockett, 2. Corey Flynn, 3. Owen Franks, 4. Luke Romano, 5. Sam Whitelock, 6. George Whitelock, 7. Matt Todd, 8. Kieran Read (capt), 9. Andy Ellis, 10. Daniel Carter, 11. Zac Guildford, 12. Ryan Crotty, 13. Robbie Fruean, 14. Sean Maitland, 15. Israel Dagg.
Replacements: 16. Quentin MacDonald, 17. Ben Franks, 18. Tom Donnelly, 19. Luke Whitelock, 20. Willi Heinz, 21. Tom Taylor, 22. Tom Marshall.
REFEREE: Jaco Peyper (SA)
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