The Crusaders will be hoping to continue their fine form when they visit Bloemfontein where they face a struggling Cheetahs outfit on Saturday.
The men from Christchurch are the only unbeaten side left in the competition and head into this clash on a high as they are currently on an eight-match winning streak.
They will be brimming with confidence as they head into this fixture after claiming a 57-24 victory over the Stormers in Christchurch last weekend.
They outscored their opponents by eight tries to three in that clash and are currently second highest – behind the Hurricanes – in that department with 44 tries scored so far this season.
The Crusaders’ superb start to the season reflects statistically as they are among the front-runners in several other attacking categories.
They are the leading side for carries made (1023), third highest for metres gained (4071) and defenders beaten (187) and they have made the second most offloads (126).
By contrast, the Cheetahs are lagging behind them in all the aforementioned departments. They have only scored 19 tries although they are fourth for carries made (999) and have made the third most offloads (125).
However, they are placed 10th for metres gained (3475) and 14th for defenders beaten (146). But despite those damning statistics, Cheetahs head coach Franco Smith said his charges are relishing the opportunity of going head-to-head with the seven-time champions.
“This weekend we take on the best team in the competition,” he told Netwerk24.
“This is virtually an All Blacks side and my players want to measure themselves against the best.”
But despite having to make the long trip from New Zealand to Bloemfontein earlier this week, the Crusaders will fancy their chances against their hosts.
The men from Christchurch have won eight of their past 10 games between these teams, including the last three, and have scored in excess of 50 points in their last two games against the Cheetahs.
The home side are struggling at the moment and head into this encounter low on confidence after squandering an 11-3 lead in their previous match against the Bulls, eventually losing 20-14.
The Cheetahs have scored just three second-half tries in their last four games on home soil, taking just two wins from four half-time leads in that period.
The last time the teams met: The Crusaders won 57-14 in Christchurch in 2015 but it wasn’t plain sailing as the Cheetahs led 14-10 at half-time. The seven-time champions eventually took control after the break and scored 47 unanswered points. Dan Carter led the way with a 27-point haul courtesy of a brace of tries, seven conversions and a penalty. The Crusaders’ other points came via five-pointers from Jordan Taufua, Nemani Nadolo, Israel Dagg, David Havili and a penalty try. For the Cheetahs, Johann Sadie and Francois Venter scored tries.
Team news: Cheetahs head coach Franco Smith has made three changes, including a positional switch, to his starting XV for this encounter. Two of the changes are in the forwards where Ox Nche and Uzair Cassiem are promoted from the replacements bench where they did duty in last weekend’s loss to the Bulls in Pretoria. With Ox Nche starting, Charles Marais moves to the bench. Cassiem’s inclusion in the run-on side means Paul Schoeman moves from open-side flank to number eight where he replaces Henco Venter who drops down to the bench. In the back-line, Sergeal Petersen will be starting on the right wing, sending William Small-Smith to the bench. Small-Smith’s inclusion on the replacements bench is to be confirmed and he has been bracketed with loose forward Niell Jordaan which means the Cheetahs could have a six/two split in favour of the forwards on the bench.
The Crusaders have made one change to the side that beat the Stormers last weekend for this clash. Bryn Hall will start in the number nine jersey this week, with Mitchell Drummond providing cover on the bench. In the reserves, Andrew Makalio comes on to the bench, to cover Codie Taylor at hooker. Loose forward Matt Todd will play his 100th Super Rugby game at number seven, having notched up 100 for the Crusaders last week against the Stormers (the extra Crusaders game being Crusaders vs England in 2014).
Form: The Cheetahs’ campaign started with a narrow loss to the Lions in Bloemfontein but they bounced back with a win over the Bulls at the same venue in Round 2. In their next match, they beat the Sunwolves at home but that was their last victory as they then suffered defeats to the Jaguares, Sharks, Stormers, Chiefs and Bulls.
The Crusaders are in red-hot form having won all eight of their matches so far this year. Their campaign started with a home win over the Brumbies before they claimed come-from-behind victories over the Highlanders, Reds and Blues. Since then, they have registered big wins over the Western Force, Waratahs, Sunwolves and Stormers.
2015: Crusaders won 57-14 in Christchurch
2014: Crusaders won 52-31 in Bloemfontein
2012: Crusaders won 28-21 in Christchurch
2011: Cheetahs won 33-20 in Bloemfontein
2010: Crusaders won 45-6 in Christchurch
2009: Cheetahs won 20-13 in Bloemfontein
2008: Crusaders won 55-7 in Christchurch
2007: Crusaders won 49-28 in Bloemfontein
Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter (c), 12 Nico Lee, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Paul Schoeman, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Uzair Cassiem, 5 Carl Wegner, 4 Armandt Koster, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Ox Nche
Replacements: 16 Elandré Huggett, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Francois Uys, 20 Henco Venter, 21 Niell Jordaan/William Small-Smith, 22 Tian Meyer, 23 Clinton Swart
Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Seta Tamanivalu, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock (C), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody
Replacements: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Manasa Mataele
Date: Saturday, April 29
Venue: Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
Kick-off: 17:15 local (15:15 GMT)
Referee: Federico Anselmi (Argentina)
Assistant Referees: Nic Berry (Australia), AJ Jacobs (South Africa)
TMO: Johan Greeff (South Africa)