SR PREVIEW: Round Two, Part One
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: It may only be Round Two, but you will expect teams to start making statement of intent.
In Part One of our preview, we have a look at two domestic derbies - the Western Force against the Reds in Australia and the Chiefs against the Blues across the Tasman Sea in New Zealand.
The first of the two matches could be a snore-fest, as Aussie derbies often are.
However, Friday's encounter in Hamilton will be a thrill-a-minute affair.
We look at Thursday and Friday's matches!
Thursday, March 2
Western Force v Reds
(nib Stadium, Perth - Kick-off: 18.30; 20.30 AEST; 10.30 GMT)
The Perth crowd will get their first chance to see the Western Force's new recruits - including Curtis Rona, Chance Peni, Bill Meakes, Tatafu Polota-Nau and former Red, Ben Daley.
However, it is the Reds team that has been attracting the headlines - as a result of the Brisbane-based franchises' off-season recruiting, which include Wallaby legend George Smith, Quade Cooper, Scott Higginbotham and Stephen Moore.
Those players gave the Reds a steely resolve that saw them edge a dangerous Sharks outfit last week.
Now they will look to kick on and put down another big marker in this Super Rugby marathon.
"We were pleased to get the win at home in Round One, but this week presents a fresh challenge," Reds coach Nick Stiles said.
"We know there's plenty of work to do.
"This is our first away trip of the season and also our first Australian derby.
"It's an important match and no doubt both teams will be fighting hard for a win.
"It's always an arm wrestle against the Force."
The Reds and the Force have developed a healthy rivalry over the last 11 seasons, with the Reds holding a slight advantage with eight wins to the Force's seven from their 16 meeting with one draw in 2013.
The Force have won five of their last eight games against the Reds, including a 22-6 victory in Brisbane in their last encounter - when Jono Lance put in a perfectly weighted kick for Luke Morahan to seal the result in the 80th minute.
The Force return to the West determined to redeem themselves after a letting a half-time lead slip to go down to the Waratahs 13-19 in wet conditions in Sydney last Saturday.
The Reds started their season with a narrow 28-26 with over the Sharks, thanks largely to two-try hero Samu Kerevi.
The Queenslanders only hit the front in the 70th minute with replacement scrumhalf James Tuttle scoring what proved to be the match-winning try.
The keys to winning this match are to be found in set-piece excellence.
The Force's set piece stood up well for the most part against the Waratahs, with the scrum dominating and leading to Jono Lance's first-half try. Although the line-out did falter in the final 25 minutes, with the Force losing multiple line-outs on their own throw in big moments.
After working hard at training to rectify their mistakes the Force will look to sure up the line-out and use it as an attacking weapon to unleash the strike weapons in the backline.
"It's all about consistency with line-outs in terms of movements and timing so will be better there this week," Wallaby lock and line-out general Adam Coleman said.
"Our line-out can be a real weapon to get good ball to the backs and let them do what they do best."
2016: Force won 22-6, Brisbane
2015: Reds won 32-10, Perth
2015: Reds won 18-6, Brisbane
2014: Force won 30-20, Perth
2014: Force won 32-29, Brisbane
Prediction: The Force have won five of their last eight games against the Reds, including a 22-6 victory in their last encounter. The Force have led at half-time in all but one of their last six games against the Reds when playing at home, though they've gone on to win only three of those fixtures. The Reds have lost each of their last eight games away from home, though the last time they won a road game was in Round 16, 2015 against the Force. Five of the Force's last six wins have come against Australian opposition, their victory against Sunwolves last season the only exception in this run. Only once before this century (2012) have the Reds won their opening two games of a Super Rugby, something they can achieve in this match following their opening weekend win against the Sharks. The Force are always more competitive in Perth, but it is up front where this game will be decided and the Reds seem to have too much grunt - which is why we say they will win by about eight points.
Western Force: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Curtis Rona, 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Chance Peni, 10 Jono Lance, 9 Ryan Louwrens, 8 Brynard Stander, 7 Kane Koteka, 6 Ross Haylett-Petty, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Matt Philip, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Heath Tessmann (captain), 1 Ben Daley.
Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Pek Cowan, 18 Tetera Faulkner, 19 Richard Hardwick, 20 Isi Naisarani, 21 Michael Ruru, 22 Ian Prior, 23 Alex Newsome.
Reds: 15 Karmichael Hunt, 14 Chris Kuridrani, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Duncan Paia'aua, 11 Eto Nabuli, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Nick Frisby, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 George Smith, 6 Adam Korczyk, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Sam Talakai, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 James Slipper (captain).
Replacements: 16 Andrew Ready, 17 Sef Fa'agase. 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Izack Rodda, 20 Hendrik Tui, 21 James Tuttle, 22 Jake McIntyre, 23 Izaia Perese.
Referee: Federico Anselmi (Argentina)
Assistant referees: Rohan Hoffmann (Australia), Graham Cooper (Australia)
TMO: Damien Mitchelmore (Australia)
Friday, March 3
Chiefs v Blues
(FMG Stadium, Hamilton - Kick-off: 19.35; 06.35 GMT)
Since 1996 and the formation of Super Rugby, the two sides have faced off in competition 26 times, with the Blues winning 10 of those encounters, and the Chiefs the other 16.
Not many of those matches were boring or dull affairs.
The entertainment value comes in the form of the skill and intensity with which these two sides play.
Not much will change on Friday.
You can expect a tight match, as the Blues look to make it two from two - pitting 2017 recruits Augustine Pulu and Pauliasi Manu against their former Super Rugby franchise.
Many will look to Rieko Ioane's hat-trick as the key to last week's demolition of the Rebels by the Blues.
However, the real key was the team's ability to limit mistakes ad retain their high tempo throughout the game.
No team came close to matching the Blues for accuracy in Week One.
It is clear that coach Tana Umaga had learnt a lot from last year.
"I think I know the group a lot better than I did last year," Umaga told the New Zealand Herald.
"Last year I was trying to find out who I have got and what they can do at this level. So I suppose we learned a lot and I know a lot more about the players.
"I think it goes without saying how intense these games [local derbies] are," the coach added.
"That first game between the Chiefs and Highlanders looked pretty brutal, so nothing has changed from last year.
"So we have to step up. Although we got a good win it was a bit rusty and they exposed a few things that we have to fix otherwise a Chiefs outfit that is very good at exploiting holes on counter attack will mean we get done."
2016: Chiefs won 29-23, Hamilton
2015: Chiefs won 23-18, Albany
2015: Chiefs won 23-16, Hamilton
2014: Chiefs won 32-20, New Plymouth
2014: Chiefs won 11-8, Auckland
Prediction: The Chiefs have won each of their last 10 games against the Blues, though seven of those fixtures were decided by a margin of fewer than 10 points. The Chiefs have won five of their last seven regular season games against fellow New Zealand opposition, including a nine-point win against the Highlanders in Round One. The Chiefs return for a home fixture in Super Rugby for the first time since Round 15, 2016; they've won five of their last six games on home turf. The Blues have now won their last three games, the last time they enjoyed a longer winning streak in Super Rugby was a four-game stretch across the 2012 and 2013 campaigns. Hat-trick hero, Rieko Ioane, managed five clean breaks in Round One, the second most of any player in the competition behind the Hurricanes' Vince Aso (six). The bookmakers are putting their money on the Chiefs, and for good reason - they have home ground advantage. But you write the Blues off at your peril. We think there will be one score (a late try) in it at the end, with with the Chiefs sneaking it.
Blues: 15 Michael Collins, 14 Matt Duffie, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 Piers Francis, 11 Melani Nanai, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 4 Jimmy Tupou (captain), 3 Sione Mafileo, 2 Matt Moulds, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Hame Faiva, 17 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Jerome Kaino, 21 Billy Guyton, 22 George Moala, 23 Rene Ranger.
Chiefs: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Tim Nanai-Williams, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Johnny Faauli, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (captain), 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Lachlan Boshier, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16 Samisoni Tuake'iaho, 17 Siegfried Fisi'ihoi, 18 Atu Moli, 19 Taleni Seu, 20 Tom Sanders, 21 Jonathan Taumateine, 22 Toni Pulu, 23 Shaun Stevenson.
Referee: Ben O'Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand), Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)
Compiled by Jan de Koning
* Statistics provided by Opta Sports