An unchanged pack, but three returning All Blacks in their backline is what Crusaders coach Scott Robertson opted for when he announced the team to play the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld on Friday night (19:10).
One of the most interesting individual duals will probably be that between the All Blacks number two flyhalf Richie Mo’unga, who many Kiwi’s feel should start their tests ahead of Beauden Barrett, and the Bulls captain Handré Pollard, in a league of his own as flyhalf in South Africa.
Mo’unga replaces Mitch Hunt in the side that played the Sharks in the drawn match in Christchurch last week. Hunt is the man who scored the extra time try, Crusaders third, and slotted the conversion to draw the match for his team 21-all against the seven penalties of the Sharks.
♦ There is another important mini-duel in the backline, where the visitors will have three All Blacks as their inside backs with the return of inside centre Ryan Crotty next to Mo’unga with Jack Goodhue on his outside.
The Bulls were chuffed with the performance of Johnny Kotze at inside centre last week in a restructured backline because of injuries to Jesse Kriel and wing Jade Stighling and a late withdrawal by Burger Odendaal because of an eye injury.
The Bullsy have again shuffled their backline, with Odendaal back at inside centre and Kotze moving to the outside. Whether this untried but talented combination will hold the fort against the All Blacks pairing of Goodhue and Crotty, next to Mo’unga, could be interesting.
Crusaders final change is at fullback, where another All Black, David Havili, replaced Will Jordan, who didn't travel to South Africa due to a foot injury sustained in the Sharks match.
Matt Todd will again lead the team in the absence of Sam Whitelock.
15 David Havili, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty (captain), 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo'unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Matt Todd (captain), 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Mitchell Dunshea, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody. Replacements: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 Harry Allan, 18 Oliver Jager, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Whetukamokamo Douglas, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Braydon Ennor.
♦ The Bulls team was announced on Tuesday. (See http://rugbyvaria.co.za/super-rugby/super-rugby-news/bulls-with-best-front-row-against-complaining-crusaders).
15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johnny Kotze, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Handré Pollard (captain), 9 André Warner, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 RG Snyman, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Lizo Gqboka. Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Simphiwe Matanzima, 18 Wiehahn Herbst, 19 Thembelani Bholi, 20 Paul Schoeman, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Manie Libbok, 23 Divan Rossouw.