Crusaders v Bulls: Teams
At AMI Stadium, Saturday July 21, KO: 8.35am (BST), live on Sky Sports 2HD
Last Updated: 21/07/12 11:48am
The Bulls will attempt to become the first visiting team to win a Super Rugby knockout match at AMI Stadium when they take on the Crusaders in Saturday's play-off opener.
Not many people outside of Pretoria are giving the Bulls much chance and it is not difficult to see why and it is 12 years since the Crusaders lost at home at any stage of the competition to non-New Zealand opposition.
Not only do the Bulls have to overcome the Crusaders' brilliant record on home soil, the best in Super Rugby, but their own record of just six victories in New Zealand in 37 matches does not inspire confidence. Indeed, the Bulls have never won in Christchurch - although Northern Transvaal did in the pre-franchise days back in 1996.
Beyond the stats, the Crusaders first-half performance against the Force last week suggests the home side are firing on all cylinders. True, the second half of that game was less impressive, but with victory and the bonus point already wrapped up by half-time, Todd Blackadder's troops had little to play for after the interval.
The Bulls were the winners in four of the last five games between these sides, including their most recent clash back in April. The men in blue have also come out on top the last three times they have faced each other in a knock-out game.
Of course all of those positive results came in Gauteng and the day-long trek to New Zealand will certainly count against the South Africans this time.
Yet the Bulls play a brand of rugby that has always troubled the counter-attack conscious Crusaders, and they enter the play-offs as the most effective attacking team left in the competition, with their 50 tries bettered only by the eliminated Hurricanes (58).
The Bulls have always played a structured game based around their set piece and are not solely reliant on Morné Steyn's boot.
No one expects to see the visitors fling it about like a hot potato, and they will look to pile the pressure on at lineout time especially. But their ability to create opportunities for the likes of Bjorn Basson has seen the wing top the try-scoring charts this season.
Bulls coach Frans Ludeke, who was also at the helm when they won the title in 2009 and 2010, is convinced there is very little to choose between the teams this weekend.
"There isn't one team that has an edge on another and it will all come down to which team handles the pressure the best," said Ludeke.
"This is finals rugby and we know how to handle the pressure. We are playing away but we know this is a once-off game and we know what we have to do.
"We know this is the most important game of our season, and we have to have the belief. We have made one or two small adjustments to our game, but we are confident going into Saturday's game... it will come down to how we handle it."
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Adam Whitelock, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Andy Ellis; 8 Richie McCaw (capt), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett
Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Tom Donnelly, 19 Luke Whitelock, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Tom Taylor, 22 Sean Maitland
Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard; 8 Pierre Spies (capt), 7 Jacques Potgieter, 6 Dewald Potgieter, 5 Juandre Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Dean Greyling
Replacements: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Deon Stegmann, 19 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Louis Fouché, 22 Francois Venter