Testing times for touring sides
The Stormers and the Sharks both start their overseas tours with tough assignments in New Zealand in Round 11 of Super Rugby this weekend.
Both the coastal sides find themselves off the pace in the South African conference so it will be interesting to see if they can make some ground on the Bulls and Cheetahs on the road.
The Stormers will face the Hurricanes in the first match of the weekend before the focus shifts to Brisbane where the Reds will host the New Zealand conference-leading Blues.
The action on Saturday kicks off with a replay of last year's final between the Chiefs and the Sharks before the Australian derby between the Brumbies and the Force in Canberra.
We take a closer look at the matches:
Friday, April 26
Hurricanes v Stormers
(FMG Stadium, Palmerston North - Kick-off: 19.35; 07.35 GMT)
The Stormers will get their Australasian tour underway in the town of Palmerston North against a Hurricanes side that is looking to regain their encouraging early-season form.
Coach Mark Hammett's side followed up their heavy defeat at the hands of the Blues a fortnight ago with an unconvincing victory over the Force last week, and they have had the further distraction of the Julian Savea affair to deal with this week.
The All Black wing's off-field issues mean that he will not be part of the action on Friday, and that is not the only change to the Hurricanes backline as Hammett looks for the right combination to get their finishing touch back.
They face a Stormers team that has been bolstered by the return of a few of their injured players after a much-needed bye, and they will be desperate to get their tour off to a positive start.
The clash of styles should be an interesting one, with the Hurricanes known for their attacking flair and the Stormers one of the strongest defensive outfits in the competition.
Stormers coach Allister Coetzee refers to his team as "a set-piece side", so that will be an area of focus for them against a Hurricanes pack that has been fairly inconsistent this season.
The Cape side will also look to assert territorial dominance and force the Hurricanes to play from their own half where they can force them into coughing up possession.
If the Hurricanes can get over the advantage line then they could cause all sorts of headaches for the visitors as they can be incredibly difficult to stop once on the front foot.
Prediction: The Hurricanes can beat any side on their day, but their recent lack of momentum means that we are backing the Stormers to win by a few points.
Hurricanes: 15 Andre Taylor, 14 Alapati Leiua, 13 Conrad Smith (captain), 12 Tim Bateman, 11 Matt Proctor, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Karl Lowe, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Jason Eaton, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 2 Motu Matu'u, 1 Ben Franks.
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Ben May, 18 Mark Reddish, 19 Faifili Levave, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 Tusi Pisi.
Stormers: 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Gary van Aswegen, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Michael Rhodes, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 De Kock Steenkamp, 3 Pat Cilliers, 2 Deon Fourie, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Brok Harris, 18 Rynhardt Elstadt, 19 Nizaam Carr, 20 Nic Groom, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Damian de Allende.
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser (New Zealand), Sheldon Eden-Whaitiri (New Zealand)
TMO: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)
Reds v Blues
(Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane - Kick-off: 19.40; 09.40 GMT)
Both the Reds and the Blues have had some off-field distractions to deal with this week in the build-up to their clash in Brisbane, so it will be interesting to see how they react.
Reds wing Digby Ioane revealed that he will be leaving the Queensland franchise at the end of the year due to a pay dispute, whilst the Blues will be without both midfielder Francis Saili and wing George Moala due to disciplinary reasons.
Aside from those issues, it should be a great match-up on the field, with both teams showing some good recent form.
The Reds may have been disappointed with their draw at home against the Brumbies last week, but they have been right in every game they have played this season and are sure to be a tough proposition on their home turf.
In their last outing the Blues demolished the Hurricanes, and after a bye last week they will be keen to keep their standards high against a tough Reds side.
Both teams are very effective at the breakdown, so the battle on the ground between openside flanks Liam Gill and Luke Braid should be intense.
Veteran scrumhalf Piri Weepu has been a key man for the Auckland side this season, and he will have his work cut out for him up against the established halfback combination of Will Genia and Quade Cooper.
Prediction: The Blues are capable of beating the Reds, but the home side will be smarting from that draw last week so we are backing them to get up for this one and win by about five points.
Reds: 15 Jono Lance, 14 Rod Davies, 13 Anthony Faingaa, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Eddie Quirk, 5 James Horwill (captain), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 James Slipper, 2 Saia Faingaa, 1 Ben Daley.
Replacements: 16 James Hanson, 17 Greg Holmes, 18 Ed O'Donoghue, 19 Jarrad Butler, 20 Ben Lucas, 21 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 22 Dom Shipperley.
Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Rene Ranger, 12 Jackson Willison, 11 Albert Nikoro, 10 Chris Noakes, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Culum Retallick, 3 Angus Ta'avao, 2 James Parsons, 1 Tom McCartney.
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18 Ronald Raaymakers, 19 Brendon O'Connor, 20 Jamison Gibson-Park, 21 Baden Kerr, 22 Francis Saili.
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Rohan Hoffmann (Australia), Damien Mitchelmore (Australia)
TMO: Steve Leszczynski (Australia)
Saturday, April 27
Chiefs v Sharks
(Waikato Stadium, Hamilton - Kick-off: 19.35; 07.35 GMT)
It might be a replay of last year's final when the Chiefs host the Sharks in Hamilton, but both teams are looking for some form after losing their last two matches.
The Chiefs have been tormented by Australian teams recently after losing at home to the Reds and then going down to the Waratahs in Sydney, so the defending champions will be looking for a big response against an injury-hit Sharks side.
The Durban side have lost more than a full team to injury, and after successive defeats to the Stormers and Cheetahs they have the unenviable task of bouncing back on the road.
Sharks coach John Plumtree has decided that with his team already so disrupted, it is as good a time as any to give some of his key forwards a rest with captain Keegan Daniel, Marcell Coetzee and Franco van der Merwe all dropping to the bench.
With an almost brand-new combination out on the park the visitors would appear to be on something of a hiding to nothing against a fired-up Chiefs team, and their greatest hope seems to be that they pull together and deliver something special under pressure.
The Chiefs have battled to assert themselves up front in recent weeks, which has limited the supply of quality ball to their backline, so their focus will be on getting on the front foot against what should be a physical Sharks side.
Given their recent struggles there will not be much pressure on the Sharks, so that could see them play with a bit more freedom and end their three-match tryless streak.
Prediction: The Sharks have been backed into a corner and are likely to come out swinging, but they will not have enough to beat the Chiefs who should win by about 10 points.
Chiefs: 15 Gareth Anscombe, 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Tim Nanai-Williams, 12 Richard Kahui, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Nick Crosswell, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Craig Clarke (captain), 3 Michael Kainga, 2 Mahonri Schwalger, 1 Toby Smith.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Ben Tameifuna, 18 Michael Fitzgerald, 19 Sam Cane, 20 Brendon Leonard, 21 Bundee Aki, 22 Charlie Ngatai.
Sharks: 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Francois Steyn, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Piet Lindeque, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Lubabalo Mtembu, 7 Jean Deysel (captain), 6 Derick Minnie, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Anton Bresler, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Craig Burden, 1 Wiehahn Herbst.
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Danie Mienie, 18 Franco van der Merwe, 19 Keegan Daniel, 20 Marcell Coetzee, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 S'bura Sithole.
Referee: Chris Pollock
Assistant Referees: Glen Jackson, Shane McDermott
TMO: Glenn Newman
Brumbies v Force
(Canberra Stadium, Canberra - Kick-off: 19.40; 09.40 GMT)
The Brumbies will be out to protect their spot at the top of the Australian conference when they host a Force team that has hit some pretty good recent form.
After a difficult start to the season the Force have put together some good performances by beating the Crusaders and then pushing the Hurricanes last week so they will hope to take some of that momentum to Canberra with them.
Jake White's team have been pretty consistent this season and nearly beat the Reds in Brisbane last week, so they will be keen to get back on the winning track at home.
Both sides have strong forward packs that they rely on to set a platform, so this could be a bit of an arm-wrestle as they battle for the upper hand up front.
The Brumbies will look to push the Force back into their own half and pressure them into playing from there, and if they are allowed to do so then the home side are likely to have a shot at securing a bonus point.
The Force are a tough side that do not roll over for any team, but they will have to sharpen up their attacking game considerably if they are to breach the staunch Brumbies defence.
Prediction: The Western Force will fight hard, but they do not have enough firepower to overcome the Brumbies who should win by about seven points at home.
Brumbies: 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Nic White, 8 Ben Mowen (captain), 7 George Smith, 6 Fotu Auelua, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Peter Kimlin, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Siliva Siliva, 17 Ruaidhri Murphy, 18 Leon Power, 19 Colby Faingaa, 20 Ian Prior, 21 Pat McCabe, 22 Robbie Coleman.
Western Force: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Patrick Dellit, 13 Junior Rasolea, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Ed Stubbs, 10 Sam Norton-Knight, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Richard Brown, 7 Matt Hodgson (captain), 6 Ben McCalman, 5 Sam Wykes, 4 Toby Lynn, 3 Salesi Ma'afu, 2 Heath Tessmann, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements: 16 James Hilterbrand, 17 Kieran Longbottom, 18 Rory Walton, 19 Chris Alcock, 20 Mick Snowden, , 21 Sias Ebersohn, 22 Winston Stanley.
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Andrew Lees (Australia), Matt O'Brien (Australia)
TMO: Matt Goddard (Australia)
By Michael de Vries