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Super Rugby: Crusaders v Stormers preview
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The Crusaders host the Stormers in Christchurch on Saturday with both sides already under pressure early in the Super Rugby season.
Both have made underwhelming starts to the season. The Crusaders have lost twice, while the Stormers are yet to convince as genuine contenders for the title despite one win from their two fixtures.
Although the Crusaders are at the bottom of the Super Rugby table and despite the loss of All Blacks captain Richie McCaw, who is out of action for eight weeks with a broken thumb, it's still early in the competition and the seven-times champions are notoriously slow starters.
But they are determined to get their 2014 show on the road and the Christchurch-based outfit's assistant coach Dave Hewett said the manner in which the Crusaders gave up a convincing lead in last weekend's loss to the Blues was thoroughly unlike a team which has won seven championships.
He said the Crusaders' coaches and players were trying to respond calmly to the failures that performance has highlighted.
"Yes, you can get angry and we are angry and they (the players) are angry," explained Hewett.
"They are all angry with themselves and they are angry with their performance."
The Crusaders hold the historical edge over the Stormers having won 14 of the previous 18 matches between these two franchises. Adding to that, they have never lost to the Stormers in Christchurch which makes the visitors' task more daunting.
The Stormers didn't overly impress in their 19-18 victory over the Hurricanes in Cape Town and know they have to deliver a much-improved performance if they want to change their dismal record in Christchurch.
Apart from their poor form in Christchurch, South African teams in general have failed to inspire against the Crusaders since 1996. Out of the 44 matches hosted by the Crusaders against teams from South Africa, they've lost twice and drawn twice.
That equates to a staggering 91 per cent winning rate, which is by far the best of any team against foreign opposition. The average score between the Crusaders and South African opposition over this period is 37-19, with the New Zealanders scoring four tries to two on average.
Stormers captain Jean de Villers knows that a victory this weekend will be a big boost for his side on their overseas tour, which also includes games against the Chiefs, Brumbies and Reds, who, like the Crusaders, have all won the tournament already.
The men from the Cape suffered a shock defeat to the Lions in their opener before their narrow win over the Hurricanes. An area of concern is their back-line play which has lacked imagination at the best of times.
Despite that, they possess potent attackers in De Villiers, Gio Aplon and Jaco Taute, who could swing the course of a match with moments of brilliance. They also know that the Crusaders' poor start to the season presents them with an ideal opportunity to break their duck in Christchurch.
Crusaders: 15 Slade, 14 McNicholl, 13 Lee-Lo, 12 Crotty, 11 Dagg, 10 Taylor, 9 Heinz; 1 Crockett, 2 Flynn, 3 Franks, 4 Romano, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 6 Luke Whitelock, 7 Todd, 8 Read (capt)
Replacements: 16 Funnell, 17 Perry, 18 Laulala, 19 Bird, 20 Taufua, 21 Ellis, 22 Bleyendaal, 23 Fonotia
Stormers: 15 Taute, 14 Van Wyk, 13 De Villiers (capt), 12 De Allende, 11 Aplon, 10 Catrakilis, 9 Groom; 1 Kitshoff, 2 Ntubeni, 3 Malherbe, 4 Rhodes, 5 Steenkamp, 6 Fourie, 7 Burger, 8 Vermeulen
Replacements: 16 Liebenberg, 17 Kebble, 18 Cilliers, 19 Botha, 20 Carr, 21 Schreuder, 22 Grant, 23 Tagicakibau
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|Friday 13th February|
|06:35||Crusaders vs Melbourne Rebels|
|08:40||Brumbies vs Reds|
|17:10||Lions vs Hurricanes|
|Saturday 14th February|
|06:35||Blues vs Chiefs|
|15:05||Sharks vs Cheetahs|
|17:05||Bulls vs Stormers|
|Sunday 15th February|
|06:05||Waratahs vs Western Force|
|Friday 20th February|
|06:35||Chiefs vs Brumbies|
|08:40||Melbourne Rebels vs Waratahs|
|17:10||Bulls vs Hurricanes|
|Saturday 21st February|
|06:35||Highlanders vs Crusaders|
|08:40||Reds vs Western Force|
|15:05||Stormers vs Blues|
|17:10||Sharks vs Lions|
|Friday 27th February|
|06:35||Highlanders vs Reds|
|11:00||Western Force vs Hurricanes|
|17:10||Cheetahs vs Blues|
|Saturday 28th February|
|06:35||Chiefs vs Crusaders|
|08:40||Melbourne Rebels vs Brumbies|
|15:05||Bulls vs Sharks|
|17:10||Lions vs Stormers|
|Friday 6th March|
|06:35||Chiefs vs Highlanders|
|08:40||Brumbies vs Western Force|
|Saturday 7th March|
|06:35||Blues vs Lions|
|08:40||Reds vs Waratahs|
Read the thoughts and opinions of Phil Edwards with skysports.com