The Vodacom Bulls will need to hold their own at the set pieces if they're to beat the Crusaders at Loftus on Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI.
There has been plenty of debate about the Crusaders' scrumming technique. Former All Blacks coach John Mitchell went as far as to say the Crusaders are 'scrumming at an angle and milking penalties'. Ex-Test referee Jonathan Kaplan also had a go at the Canterbury franchise, and Wyatt Crockett in particular.
Nevertheless, it remains to be seen if Angus Gardner, the referee for the match at Loftus this Saturday, will pick it up. The Crusaders have also made a change to their front row this week, with Joe Moody starting ahead of Crockett.
The Bulls have been susceptible at the scrums for some time. It isn't a stretch to suggest the Crusaders will be favourites to dominate this set piece whether they scrum at an angle or straight through the middle.
Usually the Bulls can rely on their prowess at the lineout and in the loose to balance the scales. However, Victor Matfield will have his work cut out against Sam Whitelock.
The Bulls were good at the collisions last week, but they may battle to dominate the gainline when they host the Crusaders. Richie McCaw, who replaces Matt Todd, will be a factor. Kieran Read lends that Crusaders loose trio something completely different. The presence of Read at the lineout will also tip the scales in the Crusaders' favour.
The Bulls have no choice but to take the fight to the Crusaders at the scrums. They can't afford to concede penalties at this set piece, and they can't allow the Crusaders to generate any momentum from first phase.
History tells us that the home team usually wins this particular battle. If the Crusaders don't get it right and Gardner dishes out the penalties, then the Bulls have an excellent goal-kicker in Handré Pollard who can translate opportunities into points.
With the likes of Pollard and Jesse Kriel in tow, we can also expect the Bulls to have a go on the counter-attack. But the Bulls will need to work hard to create turnovers, and on defence in general.
After five matches, the Crusaders boast the best try-scoring record in the competition (16). The decision to start All Blacks legend Dan Carter at No 10 should also boost their attack. They've built up some momentum in recent matches, and will be difficult to stop at Loftus.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Bulls 9, Crusaders 14
In South Africa: Bulls 9, Crusaders 4
STATS AND FACTS
– The Crusaders hold the record for the most points scored in a single match against the Bulls (they beat them 75-27 in 2000).
– The last eight contests between the sides have been won by the home team.
– The Crusaders have scored more tries that originated from scrums (six) than any other team in 2015.
– The Bulls are one of four sides yet to score a try from a scrum.
– The Crusaders have scored five tries after winning a turnover, more than any other team.
– Only the Crusaders (28.6) have averaged more points per game than the Bulls (27.4) in 2015.
– The Crusaders have won more scrums per game (8.2) at a better success rate (95%) than any other side in 2015.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Bulls||Handré Pollard (92)||Deon Stegmann, Handré Pollard, Jan Serfontein (2)||Jesse Kriel (431)||Lappies Labuschagne (74)|
|Crusaders||Dan Carter (46)||Andy Ellis, Dan Carter, Jordan Taufua (2)||Nemani Nadolo (263)||Matt Todd (47)|
Bulls – 15 Jesse Kriel, 14 Francois Hougaard, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Handrè Pollard, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Pierre Spies (c), 7 Arno Botha, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Jacques du Plessis, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Morné Mellet.
Subs: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Dean Greyling, 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Grant Hattingh, 20 Hanro Liebenberg, 21 Piet van Zyl, 22 Tian Schoeman, 23 Jürgen Visser.
Crusaders – 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Kieron Fonotia, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Tom Taylor, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Richie McCaw, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Joe Moody.
Subs: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Wyatt Crockett,18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Matt Todd, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Colin Slade, 23 David Havili.
The Money Man's betting tips (to come)
Photo: Matt King/Getty Images