Preview: Crusaders v Kings

The Crusaders will be keen to deliver a stellar performance when they host the Kings in Christchurch on Saturday.

Nothing unusual about the start of the Crusaders' campaign – as is the case with many of their opening rounds in seasons past – as they delivered mixed results in their two previous matches with one loss and one victory, both at home.

They will however fancy their chances for maximum points against a struggling Kings outfit. A convincing victory over the men from Port Elizabeth will get the seven time champions' title contentions on track and anything less will certainly raise some concerns for their head coach Todd Blackadder.

The Kings have failed to secure any points from their two losses to the Sharks and Chiefs and are languishing at the bottom of the South African and African conferences.

They face a two tricky assignments on their overseas journey, with the Hurricanes also lying in wait in Round Five.  Losses on the road, which at this point looks highly likely, could keep them rooted firmly at the bottom of the table. 

With two comprehensive home defeats – against the Sharks and Chiefs – already under, the belt they will be trying to keep the score as low as possible in Christchurch.

The last time these teams met: The last and only encounter between these two side was in 2013 in Round Six in New Zealand. The Crusaders outscored the Kings seven tries to two. A hat-trick from flank George Whitelock helped the home side cruise to a 55-20 victory.   

Players to watch: Although his kicking out of hand was not on the standard, Crusaders fly-half Richie Mo'unga will once again be trying to dictate matters on attack for his team. The number 10scored 18 of his side's 28 points in their victory over the Blues in Round Two. Nemani Nadolo will also be hoping to build on his fine performance in that clash. The Fijian wing bulldozed the Blues defence with some devastating runs and will be trying to replicate that performance.

Kings scrum-half Kevin Luiters will be determinbed to show his head coach, Deon Davids, he deserves to be his side's first-choice number nine by delivering a solid performance in his first start of the season. Luiters will be hoping to make his mark by providing his usual slick service to his outside backs. Also keep an eye on back-up hooker Edgar Marutlulle, who scored his side's only tries against the Chiefs last weekend. He's sure to make an impact off the bench.

Team news: Crusaders boss Todd Blackadder has made a number of changes to his squad. Prop Wyatt Crockett and hooker Ben Funnell will start for the first time this season. Lock Luke Romano, loose forward Matt Todd, scrum-half Mitchell Drummond and full-back Marty McKenzie will all be playing their first game of the season. David Havili starts at inside centre this week instead of full-back, while Kieron Fonotia shifts to outside centre. Johnny McNicholl and Nemani Nadolo start on the wings. Hooker Ged Robinson could make his first Crusaders appearance if he comes off the bench and Ryan Crotty is also looking for his first run of 2016 after recovering from his thumb injury to take a spot in the reserves. 

Meanwhile the Kings' head coach Deon Davids has made two changes in his side to face the Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday. Martin Ferreira replaces Edgar Marutlulle in the front row and Ntando Kebe moves to the bench and Kevin Luiters gets handed his first start of the season. Amongst the replacements JP du Plessis comes in for Jaco van Tonder, who isn't touring with the side. Davids conceded that the Crusaders clash won't be an easy one and like this week's titanic battle it will used to improve his side's performances.

Form: The Crusaders enjoyed a week off in Round Three after claiming their first victory of the season over the Blues in Christchurch a week earlier. This follows their 27-21 loss to the Hurricanes in their season opener. The Kings, who are fresh after last weekend's bye, have been playing their opening matches in front of their home crowd but that is about it as it got for them in those fixtures as they suffered humiliating defeats to the Sharks and Chiefs in Round One and Two. 

Predictions: The Kings have not shown any promise to their campaign while the Crusaders will want to gain momentum from their first win two weeks ago. Crusders to win by 25.

Previous result:
2013: Crusaders won 55-20 in Christchurch

The teams:

Crusaders: 15 Marty McKenzie, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 David Havili, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Jimmy Tupou, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Samuel Whitelock (c), 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Wyatt Crockett
Replacements: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Mike Alaalatoa, 19 Tim Boys, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Leon Fukofuka, 22 Ryan Crotty, 23 Jone Macilai

Kings: 15 Jurgen Visser, 14 Luzuko Vulindlu, 13 Stefan Watermeyer, 12 Shane Gates, 11 Malcolm Jaer, 10 Louis Fouche, 9 Kevin Luiters, 8 Jacques Engelbrecht, 7 Thembelani Bholi, 6 Chris Cloete, 5 JC Astle, 4 Steven Sykes (c), 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Martin Ferreira, 1 Schalk Ferreira
Replacements: 16 Edgar Marutlulle, 17 Sti Sithole, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Schalk Oelofse, 20 CJ Velleman, 21 Ntando Kebe, 22 Elgar Watts, 23 JP Du Plessis

Date: Friday, March 18
Venue: AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Kick-off: 19:35 local (06:35 GMT)
Referee: William Houston
Assistant Referees: Brendon Pickerill, Angus Mabey
TMO: Chris Wratt