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Carter fighting fit for Bulls clash

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Sportal.co.nz     20 Jul 2012     Getty Images

Carter said in Christchurch on Thursday he had fully shaken off the groin and hamstring injuries which had dogged his Super campaign.

The Crusaders lost five of their 16 matches in the preliminaries and significantly Carter was absent for three of them including the last loss to the Hurricanes which meant the Crusaders had to beat the Western Force last week to secure a place in the top six play-offs.

With the Crusaders ahead 32-3 at half-time both captain Richie McCaw and vice-captain Carter were replaced just minutes into the second spell and a lack of leadership was evident as the Crusaders managed only two penalty goals while conceding three tries and 21 points.

Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder has made three changes to the team which beat the Force, 38-24, to finish top of the three wild cards for the play-offs, one place ahead of the Bulls.

Wyatt Crockett replaces fellow All Black Ben Franks at loosehead prop, Sam Whitelock comes in for Tom Donnelly at lock, and powerful centre Robbie Fruean returns with Adam Whitelock moving to right wing and Sean Maitland dropping to the reserves. Kieran Read's rib injury has kept him sidelined.

But Carter is ready for a full 80 minutes against the Bulls at AMI Stadium and is relishing the chance to play the South Africans at home after being in the Crusaders side which lost to the Bulls in the semi-finals at Pretoria in 2007 and Soweto in 2010.

The Bulls also ousted the Crusaders in the semi-final at Pretoria in 2009 when Stephen Brett wore the No.10 jersey.

"I was feeling very good in the game last week and it was just precautionary that Toddy [Todd Blackadder] pulled me off after 40min. I'm in good nick, the hamstring injury is behind me and the groin is feeling fantastic," Carter said at the Crusaders training.

"Going into the play-offs which we've worked so hard towards the body couldn't be feeling better."

Carter attributed the Crusaders' loss of direction against the Force after his and McCaw's departure to the wholesale changes made early in the second half by Blackadder after he was confident the game had been won in the first 40 minutes.

"When you make so many changes things never run as smoothly as you would like. We've looked at that as a team and we're pretty disappointed with that second half for we realise we're a much better side than that.

"We were still creating a lot of opportunities in that second half, but we weren't finishing them off so that was the key learning from the half."

Carter said the Crusaders were aware of what the Bulls would bring to the game and they would present a huge challenge. "They've probably had the number on us in the last couple of years. They have a simple game plan but they do it so effectively.

"When you're playing against them you have to be so accurate in your core skills because they feed off mistakes. That has been the focus for us this week – making sure we're accurate at the breakdown, tackling well, and taking the high balls as they like to put a few of those up.

"We've played them over there quite a few times in recent years so to be at home is huge for us and hopefully we can put in a good performance."

The teams have clashed 21 times with the Crusaders having won 12 and the Bulls nine. They have met in four semi-finals in the last six years with the Crusaders winning in Christchurch in 2006, but the Bulls succeeding in the next three in the Republic.