With the 2015 Super Rugby play-offs fast approaching we preview the 17th round of games, focusing on the New Zealand franchises with the upcoming British & Irish Lions tour in mind.
Victory or two losing bonus points will secure a home play-off berth for the Hurricanes in their clash with the Highlanders and they have been boosted by the return of All Blacks fly-half Beauden Barrett.
The No.10 comes straight back into the starting line-up for the table-topping Canes in Friday’s clash after injuring his knee back at the start of May.
Ma’a Nonu has been rested and goes on the bench with fellow All Black Cory Jane while in the forwards Ben Franks and Victor Vito return to face a Highlanders side on the verge of securing their own play-off spot.
In terms of selection the Highlanders have been forced to rest their All Black trio of Aaron Smith, Ben Smith and and Malakai Fekitoa. The last time they did that was against the Brumbies and it went badly for the Dunedin side. In all the Highlanders have made six changes for this week.
On Saturday the Crusaders know that only a bonus-point victory over the Blues in another all Kiwi clash will keep their slim hopes of a play-off berth alive.
The Crusaders have retained their back line from last week's victory over the Hurricanes meaning Dan Carter keeps the No.10 shirt but they have made three changes in the forwards and four on the bench.
Wyatt Crockett returns to the No.1 jersey this week, while Alex Hodgman moves to the bench. Hookers Ben Funnell and Codie Taylor have rotated again so that Taylor takes the starting spot and at lock Dominic Bird comes into the team alongside Luke Romano.
The Blues have had to dig deep to get a team on the field this week as there are 12 players unavailable for selection.
All Blacks Brodie Retallick and Liam Messam return from injury for the Chiefs on Saturday as they travel to Brisbane to take on the Reds.
Half-back Augustine Pulu will play his 50th match in Chiefs colours. In the midfield Tim Nanai-Williams starts on the left wing with Andrew Horrell joining Charlie Ngatai in the midfield. Bryce Heem moves to the right wing and Tom Marshall returns at full-back.
Elsewhere the Force host the Brumbies, the Bulls travel to Melbourne to take on the Rebels, the Cheetahs welcome the defending champions Waratahs and the Stormers host the Lions in a crunch South African conference clash. The Sharks have a bye week.
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