Who was the standout New Zealand player in the Super Rugby regular season?
OPINION: Todd Blackadder could have answered this question in his sleep.
What game plan do you predict the Bulls will present in Saturday night's Super qualifying final against your Crusaders at AMI Stadium?
The coach's reply was never going to blow anyone's hair off their scalps.
"They haven't changed one bit of their game plan in the last four years, which is a credit to them because they just keep playing to their strengths all the time," he stated. "We know exactly what we are going to get."
There will be some subtleties within the framework of the Bulls' masterplan, no doubt, but the guts of the matter is the South Africans will live off their set pieces and the kicking of playmaker Morne Steyn.
Predicting this formula is the easy bit. Now for Blackadder's task of stopping the big boys from Pretoria.
He has raked through the statistics and says the Bulls have the competition's best defensive lineout; that suggests Steyn will - as expected - be content to kick for touch and sit back and watch Juandre Kruger, Flip van der Merwe and Pierre Spies attempt to disrupt Corey Flynn's lineout throws.
Although Springbok van der Merwe was ruled out of last weekend's match against the Lions with a hip injury, it is believed that he should be fit for the playoffs.
"One of their strengths is their lineout, they put so much pressure on set piece - a little bit like what we did with the Chiefs," Blackadder added. "When I look back to when Crusaders teams have lost to the Bulls they have really cleaned us out in the lineouts. That is one huge area.
"They have probably been the best technicians for the last three or four years, that is their game."
When the Crusaders beat the Chiefs 28-21 on July 6 they pressured a lineout missing their caller, Craig Clarke, and will again rely on Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, George Whitelock and Richie McCaw for their own returns.
Kieran Read remains in doubt. He missed the weekend win over the Western Force because of his rib injury and Blackadder reiterated he is still leaning towards starting McCaw at No 8 again and enlisting Matt Todd at openside flanker.
Read did not participate in a light training yesterday.
In Hamilton, the Chiefs' lineout disintegrated so badly that it was a painful sight watching them assemble for this facet.
But no-one in the Crusaders is deluding themselves that the Bulls will be such easy prey.
Having lost 32-30 in their regular season match in Pretoria on April 8, they will also be prickly about the prospect of giving the Bulls an early lead.
Despite leading 13-9 at halftime, the Crusaders trailed by 16 points in the second half following tries to prop Dean Greyling and midfielder Wynand Olivier.
The Crusaders' recent record against the Bulls in the playoffs is also unconvincing; they have lost semifinals against them in 2007, 2009 and 2010.
All were played in South Africa.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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