Preview: Bulls v Crusaders

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Saturday, March 28, 2015    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Sunday 29 March at 06:10 (NZDT)
Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria

Played: 21, 1998-2013 (DNP 2014)
Bulls wins: 7
Crusaders wins: 14

Bulls points: 487
Crusaders points: 714

Last match: Crusaders 41 Bulls 19, 16.03.13 in Christchurch

Squad update: Springboks Victor Matfield and Arno Botha return to the team, part of four changes to the Bulls made by head coach Frans Ludeke.

The injury enforced absence of Lappies Labuschagne is a big blow, the Bulls workhorse is the leading tackler in the competition and has been close to the franchise’s best so far in 2015.

The other changes appear to be tactical, with the home team bringing Test props Trevor Nyakane and Morne Mellett in a tighthead and loosehead respectively after making no illusions about the threat the face via the Crusaders scrum.

The battle here intrigues further considering that two of the visitor’s five changes are also in the front row.

Joe Moody and Ben Funnell come into the side at the expense of Wyatt Crockett and Codie Taylor, who both drop to the bench.

All Blacks captain Richie McCaw, rested last week, returns to claim the number seven jersey while Matt Todd has been named on the pine.

Colin Slade will join him, with Dan Carter shifted in one position to first five-eighth, while Tom Taylor will don the number 12.

Form: After sinking to back-to-back defeats against the highly rated Stormers and Hurricanes in the opening rounds, the Bulls have steadied their ship.

Now on a three match winning streak, the Sharks, Cheetahs and Force have been defeated by a Bulls side that looks more eager than sides from Pretoria traditionally do to move the ball.

This however has come slightly at the expense of defence, so how they approach a match against an old adversary will be one for the strategists, as the Crusaders are more than willing to close down a match with a strangulation style approach.

The touring squad is beginning to look dangerous although this will be one of their toughest tests of the season – the last time they had such a game, in Hamilton back in round three, they failed every examination.

91 points and 12 tries over their last two games speaks of the quality of the side when it all comes together, but the Bulls at home will present an entirely different challenge from hosting the Lions and Cheetahs.

Since 2008 in their last nine meetings the side with local fans in the stands has been triumphant.

Key players: Although there is some firepower on the bench, this looks as close to a full strength Crusaders XV as we have seen all season.

Notable is the fact that McCaw and Carter play in their preferred positions, while Kieran Read, McCaw, Sam Whitelock and Owen Franks have all been named to start alongside each other for the first time.

Carter has looked more assured of late so how he controls the game against a hungry Bulls defence and one of South Africa’s rising sons will be of some fascination.

Handre Pollard has been beginning to display that quality where players seem to have an extra moment of time when they have the ball, while he has been relied on as a constant source of points.

With an experienced backline around him, JJ Engelbrecht, Francois Hougaard and Bjorn Basson boast over 200 Investec Super Rugby caps of experience, Pollard will relish playing a more open game against a New Zealand side.

The pack could be a concern for the tourists, with Pierra Spies and Deon Stegmann tasked to lift their work rates to combat the mobile Crusaders pack.

In the tight five, Adriaan Strauss and Victor Matfield, with a stunning 253 Super Rugby appearances, will look to test themselves against one of the better tight fives New Zealand has to offer.