Super Rugby has returned in all its glory in 2015 and here we preview the 13th round of games, focusing on the New Zealand franchises with the upcoming British & Irish Lions tour in mind.
All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw returns to the bench for the Crusaders’ must-win clash with the Reds on Saturday in Christchurch.
The flanker returns from a head knock sustained against the Blues last month and is one of three changes made by Todd Blackadder as his side are in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2001.
Nepo Laulala will pack down in the front row with Codie Taylor and Wyatt Crockett this week while Alex Hodgman and Joe Moody will provide prop cover from the reserves.
Dominic Bird pairs up with Sam Whitelock at lock, and Nafi Tuitavake will play on the right wing.
Elsewhere on Friday the Blues have named a new-look team to face the Rebels in Melbourne with All Black Steven Luatua as captain and Ihaia West at ten.
The Blues won their second match of the season last weekend but have paid a price for the victory through injuries.
Luatua takes over the Blues captaincy after Jerome Kaino was ruled out for the rest of the season with a compound dislocation of his ring finger. Also ruled out for round 13 is Charles Piutau and flanker Luke Braid.
On Saturday table toppers the Hurricanes host the Sharks but the Wellington-based side will have to be without All Blacks Beauden Barrett – who is injured – and TJ Perenara and Julian Savea – who are rested.
The Hurricanes have named Manawatu prop Chris Eves to make his first Super Rugby start as one of a number of changes which includes a returning Victor Vito, who has been out with a calf injury.
Hooker Dane Coles was unavailable for selection this week after suffering a calf strain against the Crusaders last week.
And the Highlanders are also in action as they travel to South Africa to take on the Lions, and head coach Jamie Joseph has retained the same team that beat the Sharks last time out.
The Chiefs have a bye week, as do the Cheetahs and Bulls, while elsewhere the Force host defending champions the Waratahs and the Stormers host the Brumbies.
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