PREVIEW: Super Rugby, Round Seven - Part One
PREVIEW: Super Rugby, Round Seven - Part OneSHARE
The added spice is the significance of the match in the cutthroat New Zealand conference.
It will set the standard for the weekend, which will feature a number of other significant matches.
The other Friday fixture is a trans-Tasman encounter – with the Rebels hosting the Hurricanes.
We take a look at Friday's matches!
Friday, March 30:
Chiefs v Highlanders
(Waikato Stadium, Hamilton – Kick-off: 19.35; 06.35 GMT)
The Chiefs, coming off a three-match winning streak, host a Highlanders side looking to rebound after their first loss of the season.
With the Blues (who will be looking to avenge a 21-27 loss in Week Three) and the Hurricanes awaiting the Chiefs, this match is the start of a gruelling run of conference derbies that will make-or-break the 2018 season that has already been hampered by injuries.
With three wins in a row since their opening round loss to the Crusaders, the Chiefs have climbed to third in the conference just two points shy of the conference-leading Crusaders.
Despite starting the season undefeated, the Highlanders sit in fourth place on equal competition points to the Chiefs and will be eager to bounce back from their first loss of the season.
Chiefs coach Colin Cooper has indicated he won't hold back on Friday, saying they'll be 'putting on a menu' for the Highlanders.
"We tried a lot of things that we'll put in the bank or we'll be bringing it for next week," he said.
"There were a lot of plays – Tabai's and Straws' strikes – and we'll be putting a menu on for what we do when we play the Highlanders, which will be a huge game.
"I think the good thing about what we've been doing is we've been trusting the people that we've been giving opportunity to, no-one has let us down and we've still been able to create a bit of competition also," Cooper said.
The Chiefs have received another blow with All Black lock Dominic Bird required to undertake season-ending surgery on his shoulder.
He becomes the fifth player on the Chiefs 'out-for-season' injury list.
The match will be the 100th Super Rugby cap for All Black flank Sam Cane, and the side wants to lift for the occasion.
"It's a special moment, so certainly there'll be no excuses for us," Cooper said.
"I'm looking forward to the week, and how we build for what will be a huge game for us."
2017: Chiefs won 24-15, Dunedin
2016: Highlanders won 25-15, Dunedin
2016: Highlanders won 26-13, Hamilton
2015: Highlanders won 24-14, Dunedin (preliminary play-off match)
2015: Highlanders won 36-9, Dunedin
2015: Highlanders won 20-17, Hamilton
Prediction: The Chiefs ran out to a 24-15 win in their last start against the Highlanders, snapping a six-game losing streak against them in which they had scored 20+ points in a game only once. The Highlanders have won their last two away games against the Chiefs and will be searching for a third-straight win in such fixtures for the first time. The Chiefs have won six of their last seven regular season games, and have scored 102 points across their last two fixtures. The Highlanders have lost their last three away games, the last time they lost more in a row was a four-game drought to round out their 2014 campaign. Waisake Naholo has crossed for six tries in his last five games against the Chiefs, making at least three clean breaks in each of his last four games against them. This is tough to predict, because there is so little between the sides. We feel the margin will be one score and we put out money on the Chiefs.
Chiefs: 15 Solomon Alaimalo, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Johnny Fa'auli, 11 Sean Wainui, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Taleni Seu, 7 Sam Cane (co-captain), 6 Liam Messam, 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 Pita Gus Sowakula, 20 Lachlan Boshier, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Marty McKenzie, 23 Charlie Ngatai (co-captain).
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (co-captain), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Matt Faddes, 12 Rob Thompson, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Josh Dickson, 4 Jackson Hemopo, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Ash Dixon (co-captain), 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Replacements: 16 Greg Pleasants-Tate, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Tyrel Lomax, 19 Tom Franklin, 20 Shannon Frizell, 21 Josh Renton, 22 Fletcher Smith, 23 Patelsio Tomkinson.
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Ben O'Keeffe (New Zealand), Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)
Rebels v Hurricanes
(AAMI Park, Melbourne – Kick-off: 19.45; 21.45 NZ time; 08.45 GMT)
There will be those looking at the Melbourne's Rebels 46-14 win over the Sharks last week and suggest they are serious tournament contenders.
However, there were some questions asked after their 27-51 loss to the Waratahs a week before.
The Hurricanes – who last weekend ended the Highlanders unbeaten run by beating the Dunedin side 29-12 – will ask even more questions of the Rebels' credentials.
The Rebels lead the Super Rugby standings after playing the Sharks, Waratahs, Brumbies, Sunwolves and Reds.
This week will be their first match against a New Zealand side.
Rebels coach Dave Wessels admitted his team is facing a massive challenge.
"They're a good side and you obviously have to respect that," Wessels said.
"However, our focus has been – as it is every week – on playing in a way that makes the people of Melbourne proud."
The Hurricanes made a statement of their own with recent wins over the Crusaders and Highlanders.
Assistant coach John Plumtree knows it's a long season and they can take nothing for granted.
"You have to put it in perspective,"Plumtree said.
"I mean we are one of the better teams in the competition – [at least] we think we are – and we we've won a couple of derby games, but we should be winning at home.
"We know when we go down to Crusaders and to the Highlanders how tough it's going to be, so we've got to make sure we do win our home games," he said.
2017: Hurricanes won 71-6, Wellington
2016: Hurricanes won 38-13, Melbourne
2015: Hurricanes won 36-12, Wellington
2014: Hurricanes won 25-15, Melbourne
2012: Hurricanes win 66-24, Wellington
Prediction: The Hurricanes have won their last five games against the Rebels, winning by an average margin of 33 points per game in that time. The Rebels have won their last three games on the bounce at home; however, the last time they won at home against New Zealand opposition was in Round 13, 2015. The Hurricanes have won eight of their last nine games in Australia, including their last five; it is their longest ever winning streak in the country. The Hurricanes have won nine turnovers per game this season, the equal most of any team in the competition alongside the Queensland Reds. Jack Maddocks has been directly involved in seven tries this season (five tries, two assists), more than any other player. Another rude awakening awaits the Rebels, with the Hurricanes to win by 15 points or more.
Melbourne Rebels: 15 Jack Maddocks, 14 Tom English, 13 Reece Hodge, 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Will Genia, 8 Amanaki Mafi, 7 Angus Cottrell, 6 Lopeti Timani, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Matt Philip, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Anaru Rangi, 1 Tetera Faulkner.
Replacements: 16 Jordan Uelese, 17 Ben Daley, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Ross Haylett-Petty, 20 Colby Fainga'a, 21 Richard Hardwick, 22 Michael Ruru, 23 Sefa Naivalu.
Hurricanes: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Julian Savea, 13 Vince Aso, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Thomas Perenara, 8 Gareth Evans, 7 Sam Henwood, 6 Brad Shields (captain), 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Vaea Fifita, 3 Ben May, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Chris Eves.
Replacements: 16 Asafo Aumua, 17 Fraser Armstrong, 18 Jeff Toomaga-Allen, 19 Michael Fatialofa, 20 Reed Prinsep, 21 Jamie Booth, 22 Ihaia West, 23 Wes Goosen.
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: William Houston (Australia), Jordan Way (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)
Compiled by Jan de Koning, with additional reporting from RugbyPass
* Statistics provided by Opta Sports