With 10 titles between them the Bulls and Crusaders find themselves in vastly different situations heading into Round 11 of Super Rugby.
Pretoria’s finest are still very much in rebuilding mode and despite coming off back-to-back victories before their Round 10 bye are yet to truly trouble the best sides South Africa has to offer in the Stormers and Lions.
That defeat to the Sunwolves in Tokyo still lingers fresh on the mind, although clear improvements were made the following week up against the Jaguares.
Make no mistake, the win over the Cheetahs the following week was far less emphatic, and Nollis Marais will hope his squad return to action in a better frame of mind because well adrift of the play-off places halfway through the year, the Bulls need to get moving if they want to return to the post-season.
The set-piece continues to fire for the Bulls but the problems this season have centred around getting a talented collective of backs to truly capitalise on that kind of possession with confidence.
Jesse Kriel and Jamba Ulengo, a Springbok combination in the midfield, should both be dynamite and yet neither player is near the top 10 for Super Rugby’s attacking statistic categories.
Those limitations only stick out further when coming up against a side like the Crusaders. Much has been made about South Africa’s exodus overseas and the resulting pressure on young players in the Republic to adapt quickly.
Yet what has been so impressive about the Crusaders’ unbeaten season so far has been how young guns have stepped in to fill the boots of more experienced players either unavailable through injury or having left New Zealand.
The Crusaders have reached nine games unbeaten with no Nemani Nadolo, now plying his trade in France, and practically entirely without Israel Dagg, Kieran Read and Ryan Crotty due to various ailments.
Youngs guns George Bridge, Jack Goodhue, David Havili and early on Whetu Douglas have all stepped in and made playing at this level look a piece of cake.
Of course having an elite tight five helps, but even then, those younger players have flourished when expectations were at a minimum.
Even on an off day like against the Cheetahs last weekend, the Crusaders are able to produce a blitz of devastating attacking rugby to put teams away comfortably.
The Bulls don’t concede many tries, 24 through eight games, but they certainly don’t score many either. Which makes outscoring the Crusaders on the scoreboard seem unlikely, bar a standout effort from their pack to dominate the scrum.
The last time the teams met: Two years ago in Pretoria it was the Bulls who came out on top, getting the better of a McCaw-Carter led Crusaders outfit with a 31-19 win thanks to tries from Francois Hougaard, Burger Odendaal and Grant Hattingh. Handré Pollard also kicked 16 points, including four penalties, as the Bulls grabbed an impressive win. The Crusaders’ points came through a Nemani Nadolo try and Carter’s boot in his final Super Rugby campaign.
Team news: Super Rugby winner, Jacques Potgieter, is back in the Bulls starting line-up. Potgieter started in the opening two matches of the season before he picked up an injury and returned off the bench in their last two games. He replaces Jannes Kirsten at flank, with the latter moving to the replacement bench. Jan Serfontein, who was rested last week, is also named on the bench.
Crusaders head coach Scott Robertson has made four changes to his starting XV. The big news is that All Blacks openside flanker Matt Todd will captain the side in the absence of second-row Sam Whitelock, who is serving a two-week suspension, and injured All Blacks skipper Kieran Read. In the forwards, Wyatt Crockett wears the number one jersey this week with Joe Moody providing cover off the bench. Lock Luke Romano comes into the starting line up to pair up with Scott Barrett, while Quinten Strange comes into the reserves. The loose forward trio will be made up of Pete Samu, Todd and Jordan Taufua, with Heiden Bedwell-Curtis coming into the matchday 23 to provide cover. In the backs, Mitchell Drummond rotates with Bryn Hall to start at scrum-half this week, and Tim Bateman comes in at inside centre with Ryan Crotty taking a spot on the bench.
Form: The Bulls will be looking for back-to-back regular season wins against the Crusaders for the first time since their first ever two games against them in 1996 and 1997. The Bulls have won 15 of their last 19 home games against New Zealand opposition (D1, L3), with their wins in that span coming by an average margin of 17 points. The Crusaders have now won nine games in succession; only twice in Super Rugby history has any team won more games in a row in a single campaign (Crusaders – 13 in 2002; Blues – 12 in 1997). The Bulls boast a lineout success rate of 92 percent. this season, the best of any team and one of only three above 90 percent.
2015: Bulls won 31-19 in Pretoria
2013: Crusaders won 41-19 in Christchurch
2012: Crusaders win 28-13 in Christchurch
2012: Bulls won 32-30 in Pretoria
2011: Crusaders won 27-0 in Timaru
2010: Bulls won 39-24 in Soweto (semi-final)
2010: Bulls won 40-35 in Pretoria
2009: Bulls won 36-23 in Pretoria (semi-final)
Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jamba Ulengo, 12 Jesse Kriel, 11 Burger Odendaal, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Hanro Liebenberg, 7 Jacques Potgieter, 6 Nick de Jager, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Pierre Schoeman
Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Jacobie Adriaanse, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Jannes Kirsten, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Francois Brummer, 23 Jan Serfontein
Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Seta Tamanivalu, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Tim Bateman, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Jordan Taufua, 7 Matt Todd (c), 6 Pete Samu, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Wyatt Crockett
Replacements: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Quinten Strange, 20 Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Ryan Crotty
Date: Saturday, May 6
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Kick-off: 17:15 local (15:15 GMT)
Referee: Nic Berry (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Federico Anselmi (Argentina), AJ Jacobs (South Africa)
TMO: Johan Greeff (South Africa)