Preview: Super 14 – Rd.7, Part 2

South Africa versus Australasia. This is what the Saturday matches in Week Seven of the Super 14 competition has produced – at a time when the tournament reaches the halfway stage.

It all starts with the much anticipated encounter between the defending champion Crusaders and the inform Bulls in Christchurch, before we hop the Tasman Sea next to Sydney where the Waratahs host the Stormers.

After that it is a long trek across the Indian Ocean to South Africa – with the Cheetahs hosting the Brumbies in Bloemfontein and the Sharks facing the Hurricanes in Durban.

We take a look at all the Saturday action!

Saturday, 17 March:

Crusaders v Bulls
Jade Stadium, Christchurch, 19.35 (06.35 GMT)

This is a game that has plenty for the statistically minded rugby followers to mull over. The Bulls are the first and also the only South African Super Rugby side to have won a match at Jade Stadium – in 1996 Northern Transvaal, as they were known back then, crushed the Crusaders 34-18.

However, the last time any team managed to beat the Crusaders in Christchurch (or any home game) was when the Blues triumphed in February 2004. In all the Crusaders have lost only 11 of their 73 home games in 11 years of Super Rugby.

There is another good reason why Bulls coach Heyneke Meyer rates the current group of Crusaders – even without their reconditioned World Cup All Blacks – so highly.

Six members of the pack of forwards that will face the Bulls on Saturday, played in the 2006 Final for the Crusaders when they beat the Hurricanes to clinch their sixth title. Those missing are captain Richie McCaw and lock Chris Jack – crucial players no doubt, but still a very formidable forward unit.

The Bulls are also minus their captain, with Victor Matfield being rested in accordance to an agreement with Springbok coach Jake White. Add to this the absence of two the Bulls’ top tighthead props, including burly Richard Bands, as well as star Springbok loose forward Pierre Spies, then it is obvious the Bulls are not near full strength … unlike what most media reports suggested.

The home side is also coming off a bye, following their three-match South African tour. They will be rested.

The Bulls may well be weary. They have just completed an unbeaten two-match tour of Australia and it will be tough to maintain the intensity they showed in brave performances against the Brumbies and Waratahs.

The Bulls coach, Meyer, this week described this as his team’s “toughest test” yet.

“They will play out of their boots against us,” Meyer said.

“They are a great side, even without their All Blacks. Not too many teams can put 48 points past the Cheetahs.

“I know people say they are depleted, without their All Blacks, but we are also minus a host of top players. Two tightheads, Victor [Matfield] is being rested, our two first choice centres [JP Nel, suspended and Wynand Olivier, injured] are both out, along with Pierre [Spies, the Bok loose forward].”

Meyer also said that the team is still no track as far as their tour goals are.

“Defeat on Saturday would be a setback for us, but we are confident we will be up for the challenge,” he added.

Prediction: This may be a bridge too far for the Bulls and the decision to rest Victor Matfield this week may just be a tactical masterstroke from the coach. The Crusaders will have to work hard, but they’ll win in the end. The Crusaders by 10 to 15 points.

Teams:

Crusaders: 15 Scott Hamilton,14 Rico Gear, 13 Casey Laulala, 12 Tim Bateman, 11 Caleb Ralph, 10 Stephen Brett, 9 Kevin Senio, 8 Mose Tuiali’i, 7 Johnny Leo’o, 6 Kieran Read, 5 Ross Filipo, 4 Michael Paterson, 3 Campbell Johnstone, 2 Corey Flynn (c), 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Ti’i Paulo, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Isaac Ross, 19 Peter Nixon, 20 Andrew Ellis,

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