With Super Rugby back to its blistering best, we preview the fifth round of games in the 2015 competition, focusing on the New Zealand franchises with the British & Irish Lions tour in mind.
In the weekend’s only all-Kiwi affair, the Blues will be looking to recover from last Saturday’s defeat to the Lions when they travel to Wellington to take on the Hurricanes.
The Canes enjoyed a week off in round four, meaning their unbeaten start to the season continues, while the visitors from Auckland go in search of their first success of the new campaign.
All Black wing Cory Jane is replaced out wide by Matt Proctor for the hosts, while Jeremy Thrush could make his return from injury as a replacement.
The Blues will be without regular skipper Jerome Kaino, and scrum-half Jimmy Cowan is a doubt with a knee strain. Keven Mealamu, who featured in all three Tests during the British & Irish Lions tour in 2005, starts on the bench.
Super Rugby juggernauts the Crusaders are another New Zealand franchise who have flattered to deceive so far this season, with a round two success over the Highlanders their only win to date ahead of the visit of South African outfit the Lions on Saturday.
All Black duo Kieran Read and Sam Whitelock are both preparing to make their bow into this year's competition, with Read set to skipper the side in the first of two consecutive home games against Springbok opposition.
In the backline, Lions tormentor-in-chief Dan Carter, who scored a record 33 points in the final Test a decade ago, starts at inside centre.
The Dunedin-based Highlanders downed 2013 champions the Chiefs last time out, and they will be hoping to maintain that momentum when the Waratahs, the current title holders, visit the Forsyth Barr Stadium.
The Australian franchise have only played two games in this year’s campaign, so Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph will be hoping for a slow start from their opponents if they are to capitalise on a promising first month.
Elliot Dixon moves to the blindside as Shane Christie takes over in the seven shirt. In the front row, Ross Geldenhuys starts and Pingi Tala’apitagi replaces Ma’afu Fia on the bench, with the latter picking up a knee injury last week.
The Chiefs currently top the New Zealand conference after three wins from four games, including a punishing 40-16 win against the Crusaders, but they face a tough trip to overall table toppers the Stormers in round five.
And their task is not made easier by the long-term absence of New Zealand international second row Brodie Retallick, who is ruled out with a shoulder injury.
Elsewhere, the Brumbies travel to Queensland to take on the Reds in an all-Australian clash, while the Cheetahs host the Sharks.
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