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Preview: Crusaders v Stormers

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Thursday, April 12, 2012    Sportal.co.nz    Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: Christchurch Stadium, Saturday April 14 @ 1935

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 17; Crusaders 12, Western Province / Stormers 4, drawn 1.

LAST TIME: July 3, 2011 (Cape Town, semi-final) - Stormers 10-29 Crusaders.

WALKING WOUNDED: The long trip back from South Africa after tough games in the Republic will have taken a toll on the Crusaders, but there were no reports of any major injuries during the week. In an interesting move Todd Blackadder has shifted Tom Taylor to first-five and Daniel Carter to second, but all his four changes were optional. The Stormers came up pretty well after a hard match at Dunedin although Gio Aplon, who was injured when scoring his try, has been replaced by Gerhard van den Heever and needs to pass a fitness test later in the week to claim a bench spot. Brok Harris returns to the run-on XV but Allister Coetzee has named his strongest possible side.

FORM:
Crusaders:
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)
Round 7: lost to Bulls 30-32 (a)

Stormers:
Round 3: bye
Round 4: beat Blues 27-17 (h)
Round 5: beat Lions 24-19 (a)
Round 6: beat Bulls 20-17 (h)
Round 7: beat Highlanders 21-6 (a)

The Crusaders are away to what most teams would consider a solid start but seventh on the table and a 3-3 record is nothing special down Canterbury way. This match is their fourth straight against South African opposition and the last unless they run into a team from the Republic in the playoffs, so they've had a month of getting used to the South African style. So far they have gathered two tough wins and taken a narrow loss although a furious finish almost saw that result at Pretoria reversed in the final stages. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the Crusaders is their difficulty in scoring tries; 12 in six matches is hardly vintage and it won't get easier this week.

The Stormers couldn't have made a better start, winning all six matches - several against tough opponents - and really coming together as a team that threatens to go deep into the season. There are still plenty of doubters in South Africa about their ability to win it all, but on current showing the Stormers are rapidly becoming the team to beat and it will take a damned good side to get that particular job done. Despite a bruising encounter the week before and the long flight, the Stormers were rock-solid in Dunedin and a couple of pieces of brilliance took them clear of a rugged and determined Highlanders side, who never made any progress against the tightest defence in the competition.

WHO'S HOT: Twelve months ago Wyatt Crockett played one of the best matches of his career at Cape Town, scrummaging powerfully and proving a dynamic presence around the park as he grabbed two tries in a hard match. More of the same will be needed this week, but the big man has the happy memory of already having done it once. This is also the sort of match that usually sees Kieran Read prominent, as he is one of those players who go better as the going gets tougher. The Stormers have a good loose trio, so Read will have a lot of competition everywhere he goes. Robbie Fruean has been quiet in recent weeks and will need to be at his best against the big and aggressive Stormers midfield. He has the power and speed to take them on, but few teams have made much headway in this area until now.

The Stormers are gearing up for a huge tight battle and certainly have the players for it. One up-and-comer in their ranks is prop Steven Kitshoff, who had an impressive game at Dunedin to build on a good season. He did all his core tasks well but also proved mobile around the field, making plenty of physical contributions at the breakdown and tackling hard and aggressively. The Stormers lineout is dominated by the huge and athletic figure of Andries Bekker, but if anyone has worked out how to contain him it's a well-guarded secret. As a reliable go-to man and a potent disruptor of opposition ball, Bekker has few peers in this competition. Joe Pietersen turned the Dunedin match with a spectacular try that featured several pieces of individual brilliance as well as good team interplay, although that was just icing a very good all-round game. The Crusaders will be well aware of the threat he poses, but will need to be accurate to defuse it.

WE THINK: Picking against the Crusaders, especially at home, is always tough but the Stormers are just playing so well at the moment that they should be favoured to win this match. They can win ugly or turn on the style if the chance presents itself, but the one thing you know is that they won't beat themselves. It should be a real cracker of a match and there won't be much in it, but the visitors should be able to claim the one vital score to take the points.

TEAMS:

Crusaders: 1. Wyatt Crockett, 2. Corey Flynn, 3. Ben Franks, 4. Tom Donnelly, 5. Sam Whitelock, 6. George Whitelock, 7. Matt Todd, 8. Kieran Read (capt), 9. Andy Ellis, 10. Tom Taylor, 11. Zac Guildford, 12. Daniel Carter, 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. Ryan Crotty, 22. Tom Marshall.


Stormers: 1. Steven Kitshoff, 2. Tiaan Liebenberg, 3. Brok Harris, 4 Eben Eztebeth, 5. Andries Bekker, 6. Siya Kolisi, 7. Rynhardt Elstadt, 8. Duane Vermeulen, 9. Dewaldt Duvenage, 10. Peter Grant, 11. Bryan Habana, 12. Jean de Villiers (capt), 13. Juan de Jongh, 14. Gerhard van den Heever, 15. Joe Pietersen.

Replacements: 16. Deon Fourie, 17. Frans Malherbe, 18. De Kock Steenkamp, 19. Nizaam Carr, 20. Louis Schreuder, 21. Burton Francis, 22. Gio Aplon or JP du Plessis.


REFEREE: Chris Pollock (NZ)