Preview: Crusaders v Bulls

Robbie Deans 1582057962
The home side must know this and the suddenly-hot Bulls can surely see a chance to drop the defending champs into a hole, so the game promises to be a ripper.

VENUE & TIME: Jade Stadium, Christchurch, Saturday March 17, 19.35 NZT.

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 12 � Crusaders 8, Northern Transvaal/Bulls 4.

LAST TIME: May 20, 2006 (Christchurch, semi-final) � Crusaders 35-15 Bulls.

WALKING WOUNDED: For the second year running the Crusaders are the lightest-hit of all teams, which makes one ask what do they do right in their conditioning programme. The Bulls have done it tough in 2007 although they are not adding to what has been a long injury roll, but they have lost centre JP Nel to a three-week suspension. Regular skipper Victor Matfield starts on the bench this week.

FORM: The Crusaders without their All Blacks have been a different beast to the always-in-control champions of the last two years. Key decisions have not been made accurately and the side has not always shown its normal composure. A loss in this match will put the Crusaders in the same boat as the Hurricanes � needing to win virtually every match from here in to make the playoffs and with a round 12 clash between the 2006 finalists still ahead. The Bulls, after a weak home stand, suddenly caught fire in Australia and beat the Brumbies convincingly and the Waratahs even more decisively. They will know that they can put the Crusaders� season in real jeopardy by winning this match, so expect the Pretoria crew to give the match everything.

WHO'S HOT: The Crusaders have not played for a fortnight and the recent news stories have all been about the returning All Blacks. Those players are not back yet, though, and Robbie Deans needs his young players to stand up again. In this category are Kieran Read and Michael Paterson, two of the more impressive first-year forwards, and Stephen Brett will have a big load on his shoulders. Some of the senior players need to give a lot more than they have been and take a greater on-field role. The Bulls got their forward mojo back when Bakkies Botha returned to the ranks and the big man has been in impressive form. Derick Hougaard controlled play well in the two Australian matches, something he was incapable of doing last year, and the outsides have been far more dangerous as a result.

WE THINK: Tipping against the Crusaders at home is normally folly � they have not suffered a home defeat in 22 matches since February 2004 � but that record may come to an end this week. Normally we�d pick a big Crusaders win, especially in a game like this one with a great deal riding on it, but the confidence and ability shown by the Bulls recently forces us to pick the visitors by 5-10 points.

TEAMS:

Crusaders: 1 � Wyatt Crockett, 2 � Corey Flynn (captain), 3 � Campbell Johnstone, 4 � Ross Filipo, 5 � Michael Paterson, 6 � Kieran Read, 7 � Johnny Leo'o, 8 � Mose Tuiali'i, 9 � Kevin Senio, 10 � Stephen Brett, 11 � Caleb Ralph, 12 � Tim Bateman, 13 � Casey Laulala, 14 � Rico Gear, 15 � Scott Hamilton.

Reserves: 16 � Ti'i Paulo, 17 �Ben Franks, 18 � Isaac Ross, 19 � Peter Nixon, 20 � Andy Ellis, 21 � Tusi Pisi, 22 � Brent Ward.

Bulls: 1 � Guthro Steenkamp, 2 � Gary Botha, 3 � Danie Thiart, 4 � Bakkies Botha, 5 � Francois van Schouwenburg, 6 � Danie Rossouw, 7 � Wikus van Heerden, 8 � Pedrie Wannenburg, 9 � Fourie du Preez (captain), 10 � Derick Hougaard, 11 � Bryan Habana, 12 � Wayne Julies, 13 � Marius Delport, 14 � Akona Ndungane, 15 � Jaco van der Westhuyzen.

Reserves: 16 � Derick Kuun, 17 � Ruan Vermeulen, 18 � Victor Matfield, 19 � Anton Leonard, 20 � Heini Adams, 21 � Morne Steyn, 22 � Frikkie Welsh.


REFEREE: Stuart Dickinson
Robbie Deans 1582057962