PREVIEW: Super Rugby, Round Six - Part Two
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: The Highlanders face a tough task to keep their unbeaten record intact when they face the Hurricanes in Wellington Saturday.
The Highlanders are the only unbeaten side left in this year's Super Rugby tournament and a win over the 'Canes will cement their place at the top of the New Zealand conference.
Meanwhile, Saturday's first game sees the Sunwolves host the Chiefs in Tokyo.
Later in the day, the Stormers will be looking to build on their win against the Blues when they take on the Reds at Newlands in Cape Town.
The Round's final match sees the Lions in Buenos Aires to take on the Jaguares.
We take a look at all Saturday's matches!
Sunwolves v Chiefs
(Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium, Tokyo - Kick-off: 13.15; 17.15 NZ time; 04.15 GMT)
Japan's Sunwolves may have lost 30 of 34 games since joining Super Rugby in 2016, but they at least appear to be cutting down on the horror losses that marked their first two seasons before Saturday's visit of the Chiefs to Tokyo.
Last weekend's 38-40 defeat away to the Lions was a marked improvement on the 7-94 mauling they suffered in Johannesburg last year.
After early calls for the Sunwolves to be booted out of Super Rugby, there are encouraging signs under Japan coach Jamie Joseph.
"I'm proud of the way the team played," said captain Yutaka Nagare before Saturday's visit by the Chiefs to Tokyo.
After a stunning comeback in the 41-28 win over the Bulls last weekend, Chiefs head coach Colin Cooper said he was looking forward to the game in Japan against the Sunwolves.
Cooper was also wary of the improvements the Sunwolves have made this year.
"We're really excited to be here in Tokyo, Japan," said Cooper.
"It's the first time the Chiefs have been here to play in this Super Rugby competition so it's an historic occasion.
"We know how tough the Sunwolves will be to beat at their home ground, so we're focused on preparing really well for a tough match on Saturday."
2017: Chiefs won 27-20, Hamilton
Prediction: The Chiefs earned a 27-20 win in their only previous Super Rugby meeting with the Sunwolves, after taking a handy 20-3 lead into the half-time break on the day. This will be the third time the Sunwolves have hosted opposition from New Zealand (won one, lost one), the previous two games seeing a total of 169 points scored. The Chiefs have won 10 of their last 12 games outside New Zealand, including each of their last three. The Chiefs (18) have made the most clean breaks per game this season, while the Sunwolves (10) have made the fewest. Hosea Saumaki boasts an average gain of 11 metres per carry this season, the most of any player to have made at least 20 carries. The Chiefs will take it by 10 points.
Sunwolves: 15 Ryuji Noguchi, 14 Kotaro Matsushima, 13 Timothy Lafaele, 12 Michael Little, 11 Hosea Saumaki, 10 Yu Tamura, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Willem Britz (captain), 7 Edward Quirk, 6 Michael Leitch, 5 Uwe Helu, 4 Kazuki Himeno, 3 Hencus van Wyk, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Keita Inagaki.
Replacements: 16 Yusuke Niwai, 17 Craig Millar, 18 Jiwon Koo, 19 Wimpie van der Walt, 20 Yoshitaka Tokunaga, 21 Yutaka Nagare, 22 Robbie Robinson, 23 William Tupou.
Chiefs: 15 Marty McKenzie, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Johnny Fa'auli, 11 Solomon Alaimalo, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 8 Taleni Seu, 7 Sam Cane (captain), 6 Lachlan Boshier, 5 Tyler Ardron, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Angus Ta'avao, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Aidan Ross.
Replacements: 16 Liam Polwart, 17 Karl Tu'inukaufe, 18 Jeff Thwaites, 19 Michael Allardice, 20 Mitchell Karpik, 21 Brad Weber, 22 Sean Wainui, 23 Bailyn Sullivan.
Referee: William Houston (Australia)
Assistant referees: Aki Aso (Japan), Tasuku Kawahara (Japan)
TMO: Minoru Fuji (Japan)
Hurricanes v Highlanders
(Westpac Stadium, Wellington - Kick-off: 19.35; 06.35 GMT)
After losing their opening game against the Bulls in Pretoria, the Hurricanes have looked their normal selves in wins over the Jaguares and Crusaders.
The Hurricanes will also know that a win on Saturday will lift them above the Highlanders at the top of the New Zealand conference.
A Highlanders win could leave the Hurricanes as much as eight points adrift of their opponents on Saturday.
The match will also be a big occasion for Hurricanes scrumhalf Thomas Perenara, who will bring up 100 Super Rugby caps for the Wellington franchise.
The Hurricanes will be without All Black Vaea Fifita for the crunch clash and it is a big loss ahead of such a big game.
"Vaea's got a bone bruise on the shoulder.
"He probably could've played but we'll use this week as one of his [two] All Blacks down weeks," Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd told stuff.co.nz.
Meanwhile, Highlanders head coach Aaron Mauger knows his side will have to be at their very best to upset the Hurricanes on their own turf.
"The game against the Hurricanes is another opportunity to test ourselves against top quality opposition," said Mauger.
"We are well aware of the threats the Hurricanes possess but we look forward to meeting the challenge with our game and the strategy within it."
2017: Hurricanes won 41-15, Wellington
2016: Hurricanes won 27-20, Wellington
2016: Highlanders won 17-16, Dunedin
2015: Highlanders won 21-14, Wellington
2015: Hurricanes won 56-20, Wellington
Prediction: Only once in 14 home games against the Highlanders have the Hurricanes failed to pick up competition points (won nine, four losing bonus points). The Hurricanes have won six of their last seven New Zealand derbies on home turf, including each of their last two; only the Chiefs have defeated them in that time. The Highlanders have lost their last three away games in New Zealand, including a 26-point loss to the Hurricanes. The Highlanders have begun their season with three wins on the bounce, only three times before have they made a better start to a Super Rugby campaign (four wins in 1999, 2000, 2012). The Hurricanes will win by five points.
Hurricanes: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Julian Savea, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Thomas Perenara, 8 Gareth Evans, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields (captain), 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Murray Douglas, 3 Ben May, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Chris Eves.
Replacements: 16 Asafo Aumua, 17 Fraser Armstrong, 18 Jeff To'omaga-Allen, 19 Michael Fatialofa, 20 Reed Prinsep, 21 Richard Judd, 22 Ihaia West, 23 Vince Aso.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (co-captain), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Tei Walden, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Jackson Hemopo, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon (co-captain), 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Shannon Frizell, 20 Marino Mikaele Tu'u, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Josh Ioane, 23 Matt Faddes.
Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Ben O'Keeffe (New Zealand), Richard Kelly (New Zealand)
TMO: Shane McDermott (New Zealand)
Stormers v Reds
(Newlands, Cape Town - Kick-off: 17.15; 15.15 GMT; 01.15 AEST Sunday, March 25)
The Stormers produced their best performance of the season so far when they beat the Blues 37-20.
That win came after a horror Australasian tour for the Cape side which saw them lose three consecutive matches against the Waratahs, Crusaders and the Highlanders.
The character shown under pressure was heartening for Stormers head coach Robbie Fleck, who has set his sights on raising their standards even further against the Reds.
"It was a challenging week in many respects and for us to deliver a performance like that [against the Blues] after the tour makes us very happy.
"We are certainly not there yet, there is still lots for us to do and as a group we acknowledge that.
"The next challenge for us is to put in another performance like that next week.
"It is great to see that we can respond in this way, certainly the first half it was a good performance from us. We need to learn to play like that for 80 minutes now and every weekend," he said.
Meanwhile, after having their journey to Cape Town delayed earlier in the week due to a medical mix-up delayed, the Reds are excited to take on the Stormers at the famous Newlands Stadium.
"I think it's one of the toughest [venues] in world rugby," flyhalf Jono Lance said in an interview on rugby.com.au.
"Newlands is an unbelievable stadium to play at as an away team and I think it would be an amazing stadium for them to call home.
"I know I get excited just when you go there for the captain's run.
"I remember the first time I rocked up and saw the layout of it and how it was built
"It's an amazing place to play and the Table Mountain in the backdrop - it's a tough place to play.
"We saw on the weekend against the Blues they're a pretty damaging team so we are going to have to bring our best game."
2016: Stormers won 40-22, Cape Town
2014: Reds won 22-17, Brisbane
2013: Stormers won 20-15, Cape Town
2012: Stormers won 23-12, Brisbane
2011: Reds won 19-6, Cape Town
Prediction: The Stormers have won nine of their last 12 games against the Reds. However, the spoils are split at three wins apiece in their last six meetings. Each of the Stormers five games so far this campaign have been won by the home team on the day, with the Stormers earning wins against the Jaguares and Blues so far this season. The Reds have won just one of their last 11 games in South Africa, a one-point win over the Cheetahs in Round 10, 2015. The Reds have gained just 346 metres per game this season, the fewest of any team in the competition. The Stormers' Damian Willemse and Reds' James Tuttle have each kicked six penalty goals this season, the equal most of any players; neither has missed. The Stormers will win by 10 points.
Stormers: 15 Craig Barry, 14 Johannes Engelbrecht, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Damian De Allende, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Cobus Wiese, 6 Siyamthanda Kolisi (captain), 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Jan de Klerk, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Ramone Samuels, 1 Jacobus Janse van Rensburg.
Replacements: 16 Dean Muir, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Carlu Sadie, 19 Chris van Zyl, 20 Kobus van Dyk, 21 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 22 Justin Phillips, 23 George Whitehead.
Reds: 15 Aidan Toua, 14 Filipo Daugunu, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Duncan Paia’aua, 11 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 10 Jono Lance, 9 Ben Lucas, 8 Caleb Timu, 7 Adam Korczyk, 6 Angus Scott-Young, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Alex Mafi, 1 James Slipper (captain).
Replacements: 16 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 17 Jean-Pierre Smith, 18 Sef Fa'agase, 19 Harry Hockings, 20 Scott Higginbotham, 21 Tate McDermott, 22 Hamish Stewart, 23 Eto Nabuli.
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Egon Seconds (South Africa), Rasta Rasivhenge (South Africa)
TMO: Christie du Preez (South Africa)
Jaguares v Lions
(Estadio José Amalfitani, Buenos Aires - Kick-off: 16.40; 21.40 SA time; 19.40 GMT)
Lions coach Swys de Bruin raised a few eyebrows this week by labelling his side the "underdog" ahead of Saturday's clash against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires.
It is true that the Lions have been turned over on both previous visits to Argentina - 24-36 last year and 22-34 in 2016 - but on those occasions they fielded second-string sides, as former coach Johan Ackermann opted to rest key players from the long journey to South America.
It is not an example de Bruin will follow and after the nervy 40-38 win over the Sunwolves last weekend. The coach said he would be picking his strongest possible side.
"It's nice to go there as the underdog," he said.
"We've never won there so that's a challenge that works in our favour.
"We're looking to play maximum rugby there.
"We still want to score five or more tries but we'll work on our system not to give away so many."
The Jaguares suffered a 7-18 defeat in Round Five against the Reds and head coach Mario Ledesma will be looking for better execution and overall quality from his players against the Lions
"The defence [against the Reds], except for some individual errors, was fine," Ledesma told jaguares.com.ar. "It was aggressive, it had intensity and very few times they caught us out.
"We were intense and tackled, but in the first half we played in our own half. We could not generate pressure from the territory."
2018: Lions won 47-27, Johannesburg
2017: Lions won 24-21, Johannesburg
2017: Jaguares won 36-24, Buenos Aires
2016: Jaguares won 34-22, Buenos Aires
2016: Lions won 52-24, Johannesburg
Prediction: Each of the previous five meetings between the Jaguares and Lions have been won by the home team on the day, with the Jaguares enjoying 12-point wins in each of their previous two home games against the Johannesburg outfit. However, the Jaguares have won only one of their last five games at home, failing to break into double-digits in two of their last three. The Lions have won their last seven games away from home, a streak more than twice as long as any other they have managed as either the Lions or Cats in Super Rugby. The Lions have averaged 31 defenders beaten per game this season, the most of any team and seven more per game than the Jaguares. Pablo Matera made 23 carries in Round Five, six more than any other player, while only Damian de Allende (63) has made more than Matera (55) overall this season. The Lions will win by five points.
Jaguares: 15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Bautista Delguy, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Bautista Ezcurra, 11 Emiliano Boffelli, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Javier Ortega Desio, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Pablo Matera (captain), 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Matias Alemanno, 3 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 2 Agustin Creevy, 1 Santiago Garcia Botta.
Replacements: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Felipe Arregui, 18 Juan Pablo Zeiss, 19 Guido Petti, 20 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 21 Martin Landajo, 22 Jeronimo de la Fuente, 23 Ramiro Moyano.
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Sylvian Mahuza, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Marco Jansen van Vuren, 8 Albertus Smith, 7 Robert Kruger, 6 Cyle Brink, 5 Francois Mostert, 4 Marvin Orie, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Dylan Smith, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Len Massyn, 21 Dillon Smit, 22 Howard Mnisi, 23 Shaun Reynolds.
Referee: Jamie Nutbrown (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Paul Williams (New Zealand), Pablo Deluca (Argentina)
TMO: Santiago Borsani (Argentina)
* Statistics provided by Opta Sports