The Kings would do well to avoid a hammering at the hands of the Crusaders in Christchurch this Saturday.
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder has made several changes before the match against South Africa’s weakest Super Rugby franchise. All Blacks Kieran Read, Joe Moody, Codie Taylor and Andy Ellis have all been granted a rest.
And yet the Crusaders will field a combination that has the potential to secure a big bonus-point win. Wyatt Crockett, Ben Funnell, Luke Romano, Matt Todd, Johnny McNicholl and Marty McKenzie will all start for the first time this season. Veteran tighthead Owen Franks as well as the powerful winger Nemani Nadolo have been retained for this clash.
A win for the Kings in Christchurch is highly unlikely. Indeed, one gets the feeling that the Kings would do well to finish within 10 points of the Crusaders.
The Crusaders pack has put in some dominant performances at the scrum this season. With Todd in tow, they will be a force at the breakdown.
Perhaps the Kings will look to up the tempo. They can’t allow the Crusaders to settle early on. They can’t afford to get into a physical fight against a Crusaders side that enjoys a set-piece battle.
That said, the Crusaders have the personnel to thrive in broken play. Nadolo offers both power and pace out wide. Expect to see forwards such as Sam Whitelock and Jordan Taufua linking with the backs if the game opens up.
The Kings’ defence will be under pressure from the outset. While the team from the Eastern Cape is unlikely to win this match, they can claim a moral victory by denying the mighty Crusaders a try-scoring bonus-point.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Crusaders 1, Kings 0
In Christchurch: Crusaders 1, Kings 0
STATS AND FACTS
– The only previous match between these sides in 2013 saw 75 points scored, 55 by the Crusaders.
– The Crusaders have kept their opponents to fewer than 10 points in the opening half of four of their last five Super Rugby matches.
– This will be the Kings’ first foray away from home since the 2013 season, which saw them accrue one win and one draw on the road, both of which came in Australia.
– Nemani Nadolo averages four defenders beaten per game so far in 2016, the third most of any New Zealand-based player behind Chiefs duo Damian McKenzie and Charlie Ngatai.
– Kings flanker Chris Cloete has won six turnovers so far this season, the equal most of any player in the competition from only two games.
Crusaders – 15 Marty McKenzie, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 David Havili, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Jimmy Tupou, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock (c), 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Mike Alaalatoa, 19 Tim Boys, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Leon Fukofuka, 22 Ryan Crotty, 23 Jone Macilai.
Kings – 15 Jurgen Visser, 14 Luzuko Vulindlu, 13 Stefan Watermeyer, 12 Shane Gates, 11 Malcolm Jaer, 10 Louis Fouché, 9 Kevin Luiters, 8 Jacques Engelbrecht, 7 Thembelani Bholi, 6 Chris Cloete, 5 JC Astle, 4 Steven Sykes (c), 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Martin Ferreira, 1 Schalk Ferreira.
Subs: 16 Edgar Marutlulle, 17 Sti Sithole, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Schalk Oelofse, 20 CJ Velleman, 21 Ntando Kebe, 22 Elgar Watts, 23 JP du Plessis.
Referee: William Houston (Australia)
Assistant referees: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand), Angus Mabey (New Zealand)
TMO: Chris Watt (New Zealand)