The Crusaders and Cheetahs get Saturday's action underway when they face off in what should be an entertaining clash in Christchurch.
After a slow start to their season, the Crusaders' campaign is slowly gathering momentum while the Cheetahs, after a solid start, have gone off the boil in recent weeks.
Heading into this clash, these sides have remarkably similar records. Both teams have won two out of their four matches played so far this season and have accumalated nine points in the standings.
The seven-time champions are one spot above the Cheetahs on the points table by virtue of a better points difference. The men from Christchurch will be worried that their attacking play hasn't been up to its usual high standards.
They are the team with the least defenders beaten (47) in the tournament while the Cheetahs have fared little better and, with 57 players beaten, are second from bottom in that department.
However, there have also been areas where the Crusaders have impressed. They are joint highest – with the Hurricanes – for scrummaging success at 94 percent so far this season.
The Cheetahs are also battling on the attack and are the side with the least metres gained on attack (1228 metres) this year. Both sides are also amongst the also rans as fas as clean breaks.
The Cheetahs have only made 22 and the Crusaders 21. By comparison, the Chiefs who are at the top of the standings in that category have made a staggering 48 clean breaks.
Last time out: The last time these sides met, the Crusaders secured a 52-31 victory in a highly entertaining clash in Bloemfontein. It was a significant wiresultn for the Crusaders as it was their first victory in Bloemfontein since 2007 and they outscored their hosts by six tries to four in the process. Nemani Nadolo was the Crusaders' hero as he scored a hat-trick of tries and Israel Dagg, Colin Slade and Tom Taylor scored their other tries. For the Cheetahs, Oupa Mohoje announced himself to the rugby world with a superb solo try and their other five-pointers came via Cornal Hendricks, Sarel Pretorius and Williew le Roux.
Players to watch: Although he only made his first appearance of the 2015 campaign against the Lions last weekend, Crusaders captain and number eight Kieran Read hit the ground running with a superb allround display. Expect more of that in this encounter and also keep an eye on his back row partner Jordan Taufua who starts on the blindside flank. The 23-year-old is highly rated in New Zealand and came to the fore with several impressive performaces in 2014.
For the Cheetahs, the return to the run-on side of Springbok flanker Heinrich Brussow is a tremendous boost as he made a solid impacr off the bench against the Sharks last weekend. Another player who should play a big role for the men from Bloemfontein is their fly-half Joe Pietersen whose accurate goal-kicking should keep the visitors' scoreboard ticking.
Team news: The seven-time champions have opted to rest All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw, which means Matt Todd will pack down on the openside flank. In other changes to the run-on side, All Black Israel Dagg returns from injury to start at full-back while Kieron Fonotia moves onto the wing to replace the injured Johnny McNicholl while Cody Taylor comes in at hooker with Ben Funnell dropping to the bench.
Cheetahs boss Naka Drotske has made four changes to his side. The big news is that Heinrich Brussow starts at openside flanker in place of Jean Cook, who moves to number eight at the expense of Boom Prinsloo who drops to the bench where he is joined by Willie du Plessis, who makes way for Joe Pietersen at fly-half while Clayton Blommetjies comes in on the right wing for Cornal Hendricks who is being rested.
Form: The Crusaders had to fight hard before they secured a 34-6 bonus-point victory over the Lions in Christchurch last weekend. Before that they suffered losses to the Rebels and Chiefs and their only other triumph came in Round Two when they claimed a 20-13 victory over the Highlanders in Dunedin. The Cheetahs' kicked off their campaign with successive victories over the Sharks in Durban and Blues in Bloemfontein but have battled in recent weeks and lost their last two matches at home against the Bulls and Sharks respectively.
Prediction: The Crusaders shouldn't have too much problems winning this one at home. Crusaders to win by 12 points!
2014: Crusaders won 52-31 in Bloemfontein
2012: Crusaders won 28-21 in Christchurch
2011: Cheetahs won 33-20 in Bloemfontein
2010: Crusaders won 45-6 in Christchurch
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Kieron Fonotia, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Dan Carter, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Luke Whitelock, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Tom Taylor, 23 David Havili.
Cheetahs: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Clayton Blommetjies, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Joe Pietersen, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Jean Cook, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Heinrich Brussow, 5 Francois Uys (captain), 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Danie Mienie.
Replacements: 16 Stephan Coetzee, 17 BG Uys, 18 Maks van Dyk, 19 Steven Sykes, 20 Boom Prinsloo, 21 Shaun Venter, 22 Willie du Plessis, 23 Rayno Benjamin.
Date: Saturday, March 21
Kick-off: 19:35 local (06:35 GMT; 08:35 SAST; 17:35 AEDT)
Venue: AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Referee: Andrew Lees (Australia)
Assistant referees: Kane McBride (New Zealand), Jamie Nutbrown (New Zealand)
Television match official: Chris Wratt (New Zealand)