Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Crusaders to target Bekker threat

Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder, Photo / Getty Images.
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder, Photo / Getty Images.

How effectively the Crusaders keep Andries Bekker under control is looming as crucial to their hopes of securing a victory over the Stormers in Cape Town on Sunday.

Bekker, the 29-year-old Springboks lock in the form of his life for the Stormers, has added an all-round game to his undoubted lineout ability, and Todd Blackadder has admitted his team will target what he called the home team's ``talisman''.

"He's almost their thermometer,'' said Blackadder. "Whenever he plays well, they play well. In the last couple of years we've certainly put a lot of focus into shutting him down. We've got Sam Whitelock on the lineout case and we'll really try to put a lot of pressure on him in the lineout. Certainly, he's their talisman and if you put a lot of pressure on him, you put a lot of pressure on their forward pack so if we can manage to dominate him, and he's a quality player, we'll give ourselves a good chance to get on top of them.''

George Whitelock, the captain in the absence of Kieran Read, added: "He's a really big part of the Stormers game.

He'll win the lineout ball and they'll have some sort of midfield set-up and he will come around the corner and be the first carrier. If we can stop it at the source we believe we'll be right in the game.''

The Crusaders' lineout won't be the same without Read, who stayed in Christchurch after scans on his toe following the Kings victory showed ligament damage.

The way Luke Romano, who like Sam Whitelock is an All Black, came through the Kings game following a rib injury, however, will boost the Crusaders, as will the form of Read's replacement Luke Whitelock. The 22-year-old doesn't have the ball-carrying ability of Read - few do - but he does the basics extremely well and makes few mistakes.

Apart from Bekker, the Crusaders are also likely to target first-five Elton Jantjies, a talented attacker who can be vulnerable on defence.

``Potentially there might be a weakness there but we've got to get clear ball into space for that to happen so right across the board there are chinks in their armour,'' Blackadder said.

There were hints that the way second-five and captain Jean de Villiers rushes up on defence could force the Crusaders to travel down Jantjies' channel, rather than look for width as they have in recent weeks. The Chiefs also showed in their defeat to the Stormers that the South Africans are vulnerable to grubber kicks behind the defence.

Willi Heinz remains halfback in place of Andy Ellis because of Heinz's form and the ability of the latter to cover first-five in the absence of Dan Carter, said Blackadder.

It is an interesting choice given the inexperience of stand-in first-five Tyler Bleyendaal, but Blackadder said he has faith in Heinz to carry on his good form and 22-year-old Bleyendaal to step up. It also allowed for a more settled team following the withdrawal of Carter, who is on parental leave, and injury to Read.

Blackadder said tighthead prop Owen Franks had trained lightly during the week but had overcome his Achilles injury.

The Crusaders team to play the Stormers at Newlands Stadium on Sunday, kick-off 6.10am NZT is: Israel Dagg, Tom Marshall, Robbie Fruean, Ryan Crotty, Johnny McNicholl, Tyler Bleyendaal, Willi Heinz, Luke Whitelock, Matt Todd, George Whitelock (c), Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Corey Flynn, Wyatt Crockett. Reserves: Ben Funnell, Joe Moody, Dominic Bird, Jordan Taufua, Andy Ellis, Adam Whitelock, Zac Guildford.

Stormers: Joe Pietersen, Gio Aplon, Juan de Jongh, Jean de Villiers (c), Gerhard van den Heever, Elton Jantjies, Dewaldt Duvenage, Duane Vermeulen, Rynhardt Elstadt, Siya Kolisi, Andries Bekker, De Kock Steenkamp, Frans Malherbe, Deon Fourie, Pat Cilliers. Reserves: Martin Bezuidenhout, Brok Harris, Don Armand, Nizaam Carr, Nic Groom, Damian de Allende, Jaco Taute.

- APNZ

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