After impressing in their previous matches, the Kings face a stern test against the seven-times champions in Christchurch on Saturday.
The Crusaders suffered defeats, to the Blues and Hurricanes in the opening rounds but bounced back in style with an impressive 41-19 win over the Blues last weekend.
That result should instill fear in the Kings who have punched above their weight, and performed admirably, since the start of the tournament.
In that win against the Bulls, the Crusaders gave a superb allround display and dominated most facets of play. If they put in a similar showing in this encounter it could be a nightmare outing for the tournament newbies.
Number eight Kieran Read has done a superb job as stand-in skipper for Richie McCaw who is on an extended break. Read has been the Crusaders’ standout player and the added responsibility of leadership has not had a negative affect on his game.
The Kings were controversially included, at the expense of the Lions, in this year’s competition. And despite initial fears that they would be out of their depth, the Port Elizabeth-based franchise has been competitive in all their fixtures to date.
They claimed a morale-boosting 22-10 win over the Western Force in their season opener before suffering 21-12 and 35-24 losses to the Sharks and Chiefs respectively.
That win over the Force was an historical one as they became the first new Super Rugby franchise added to the competition to win their opening game.
However, all those games were played in front of their fervent supporters, in Port Elizabeth, and they face a daunting task in front of the Christchurch faithful this weekend.
Because of injury to key players, the Kings will be led by their fourth skipper in as many matches when prop Schalk Ferreira takes over the reins from Steven Sykes, who is sidelined with concussion. That, however, is the least of their worries.
They are under investigation by SARU for using more than the permitted two foreign players, during last weekend’s 35-24 loss to the Chiefs.
Adding to that, Leonardi and Virgile Lacombe were sent home from their Australasian tour as the Kings arrived in New Zealand with four foreign players in their 26-man tour squad – two more than SARU’s quota for a 30-man Super Rugby squad.
It remains to be seen how these off-field happenings will affect the Kings’ performance in this match.
Prediction:The Kings will have to dig deep and show plenty of character to repeat their earlier performances. But this game is being played in Christchurch and not Port Elizabeth so don’t expect any miracles. The Crusaders will dominate and win by 30 points.
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg. 14 Tom Marshall, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Johnny McNicholl, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Willi Heinz, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Dominic Bird, 19 Luke Whitelock, 20 Andy Ellis, 21 Tyler Bleyendaal, 22 Zac Guildford.
Kings: 15 George Whitehead, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Ronnie Cooke, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Marcello Sampson, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Jacques Engelbrecht, 7 Wimpie van der Walt, 6 Cornell du Preez, 5 David Bulbring, 4 Daniel Adongo, 3 Kevin Buys, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 Schalk Ferreira (c).
Replacements: 16 Edgar Marutlulle, 17 Jaco Engels, 18 Rynier Bernardo, 19 Devin Oosthuizen, 20 Nicolas Vergallo, 21 Waylon Murray, 22 Elric van Vuuren.
Referee: Rohan Hoffman (Australia)
Article source: http://www.planet-rugby.co.za/story/0,25883,3551_8582863,00.html