Chiefs need just one log point to finish on top of the conference
It is crunch time in the New Zealand Super Rugby conference, as the top two sides square off in Christchurch on Friday.
The defending champion Chiefs need just one log point from their remaining two games to finish on top of the conference again, whilst the Crusaders have an outside shot of usurping them.
This should make for a classic in the first match of another weekend missing the Australian teams, before the Hurricanes host the Highlanders in the first match on Saturday.
Although there is much less riding on the clash in Wellington, it should still be quite intense as both sides will be out to salvage some pride.
We take a closer look at the match-ups:
Friday, July 5
Crusaders v Chiefs
(AMI Stadium, Christchurch - Kick-off: 19.35; 07.35 GMT)
With two tough home games against the Chiefs and Hurricanes left, the Crusaders have their fate in their own hands, and will be intent on making a big statement ahead of the play-offs when they take on the champions.
The Chiefs got the better of the seven-time champions when they faced off in Hamilton earlier in the season, but the Crusaders are a different prospect with the knock-out phase of the competition in sight .
Coach Todd Blackadder has named a powerhouse team packed full of All Blacks and they will be keen to cut the high-flying Chiefs down to size.
The Chiefs are ten points clear at the top of the conference, but they cannot afford to suffer a big psychological blow and lose momentum ahead of the play-offs, so there will be more than just log points at stake on Saturday.
Apart from the impact this game could have on the Super Rugby standings, this clash will be significant for a different reason, with key matches right across the park that will have the All Black selectors watching closely.
The master playmaker Dan Carter will be hoping to recreate the sublime form that saw him dominate the victory over the Highlanders last week when he faces his understudy Aaron Cruden.
In the forward pack openside flanks Sam Cane and Matt Todd will battle it out for the mantle of Richie McCaw's successor, whilst in the second row Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick will both make their case for ownership of the All Black No.5 jersey.
The Crusaders rely heavily on their formidable set-pieces and are sure to attack the Chiefs in this area, but they will have to be on their toes at the breakdown as Dave Rennie's side have been dominant on the deck this season.
Prediction: This one and should be a great game to watch and really could go either way, so we are backing the Crusaders to win at home by about three points, handing the Chiefs the conference title.
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Tom Marshall, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Tom Taylor, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Tom Donnelly, 19 Luke Whitelock, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Tyler Bleyendaal, 22 Telusa Veainu.
Chiefs: 15 Robbie Robinson, 14 Patrick Osborne, 13 Charlie Ngatai, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Matt Vant Leven, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Craig Clarke (captain), 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Mahonri Schwalger, 17 Ben Afeaki, 18 Michael Fitzgerald, 19 Tanerau Latimer, 20 Augustine Pulu, 21 Andrew Horrell, 22 Tim Nanai-Williams.
Referee: Jonathon White (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand), Kane McBride (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)
Saturday, July 6
Hurricanes v Highlanders
(Westpac Stadium, Wellington - Kick-off: 19.35; 07.35 GMT)
There will not be much else other than pride at stake when the Hurricanes welcome the bottom-dwelling Highlanders to Wellington on Saturday.
The home side's feint dream of sneaking into the play-offs was extinguished by their defeat to the Chiefs last week, whilst the aim for the Highlanders will be moving past the Kings and off the bottom of the standings.
Both teams showed good attacking intent in their respective defeats to the Chiefs and the Crusaders last week, but were let down by a lack of defensive discipline.
With nothing much on the line for this one, it should be an entertaining display of running rugby with both teams very capable of finding the tryline regularly.
The Highlanders have some outstanding individuals in their side, but just have not clicked as a unit this year, so they will feel they have something to prove against Mark Hammett's team this weekend.
The Hurricanes have also lacked the consistency to threaten the top teams in the competition this season, but they have their fair share of firepower and when on song they can be devastating.
The Highlanders have an experienced pack, and should have a slight edge up front, but the real fireworks will be out wide, with gamebreakers in both backlines.
Ben Smith has been outstanding all season for a struggling Highlanders side, and the pass he got from Tamati Ellison to score last week showed just what the Dunedin side are capable when given enough space.
They will be put to the test by a Hurricanes backline which includes the talents of All Blacks Beauden Barrett, Conrad Smith and Julian Savea, so expect to see some impressive skills on display.
Prediction: The Highlanders have simply not been able to put it together this season, and we cannot see that changing in Wellington. Hurricanes to win by about seven points.
Hurricanes: 15 James Marshall, 14 Alapati Leiua, 13 Conrad Smith (captain), 12 Reynold Lee-Lo, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Karl Lowe, 6 Faifili Levave, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Ben May, 2 Ash Dixon, 1 Ben Franks.
Replacements: 16 Reggie Goodes, 17 John Schwalger, 18 Mark Reddish, 19 Brad Shields, 20 Jack Lam, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 Matt Proctor.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Kade Poki, 13 Shaun Treeby, 12 Tamati Ellison, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Mose Tuiali'i, 7 Elliot Dixon, 6 TJ Ioane, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Brad Thorn (captain), 3 Ma'afu Fia, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Hore, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Jake Paringatai, 19 Joe Wheeler, 20 Fumiaki Tanaka, 21 Hayden Parker, 22 Buxton Popoalii.
Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Glen Jackson (New Zealand), Richard Kelly (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)
By Michael de Vries