Super Rugby has returned in all its glory in 2015 and here we preview the seventh round of games, focusing on the New Zealand franchises with the upcoming British & Irish Lions tour in mind.
Current leaders Hurricanes are up first on Friday as they look to maintain their perfect start to the 2015 Super Rugby season against the Rebels.
The Canes have won five from five so far and this week’s encounter will be their first home game of the campaign in Wellington – the site of a 66-24 triumph last time the Rebels visited.
Yet the hosts will be without rested All Blacks Beauden Barrett and Julian Savea, with James Marshall and Matt Proctor respectively coming into the side.
On Saturday, All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw returns for seven-time former champions the Crusaders as they look to continue their recent resurgence away to the Bulls in Pretoria.
Dan Carter, nemesis of the Lions in 2005, will move from inside centre back to his favoured No.10 jersey as last year’s runners-up look to secure their third consecutive victory after a shaky start.
After a narrow loss to the Sharks last time out, the Chiefs are hoping to get back to winning ways as they host the Cheetahs in Hamilton.
The visitors have not beaten the Chiefs in eight attempts since joining Super Rugby in 2006 and will have to contend with returning All Black centre Sonny Bill Williams, who has recovered from concussion.
Following a hard-fought defeat to New Zealand conference rivals the Hurricanes in round six, the Highlanders face enough to tough examination as they welcome the Stormers to Dunedin.
The Stormers have emerged victorious in the last five Super Rugby meetings between the sides and are currently top of the South African conference with four wins from their first five games.
While the Blues remains winless this season, the Auckland-based side will hope to return refreshed from their bye week in round six as they take on the Waratahs in Sydney.
Yet the visitors should have their work cut out having lost the last five matches between the teams in Sydney, with the hosts also naming an unchanged side from last week’s victory over the Brumbies.
Elsewhere, the Reds and the Lions will face off in Brisbane on Friday night, while the Sharks host the Western Force in Durban the following day.
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