The Crusaders and Rebels bring the curtain down on Round 11, when the trans-Tasman rivals go head to head in Christchurch.
The Crusaders and Rebels will bring the curtain down on Round 11, when the trans-Tasman rivals go head to head in Christchurch on Sunday.
The hosts will be rolling out the welcome mat, secretly rubbing their hands with glee as the Rebels play their first New Zealand opponent of 2013.
The Rebels beat the Western Force in Perth on their way home from a battering in South Africa. The win seemed to improve their mood, but they sank to a new low at the hands of the Kings in their last outing.
This week they appear on the Crusaders' hit list.
It sets the scene for an encounter that doesn't bode well for the Rebels, who have two wins from their last eight games and haven't travelled well.
In truth their loss to the Kings wasn't as bad as many make out – being disappointing rather than catastrophic but form doesn't lie. They are going to struggle.
For the Crusaders, they lost to the Western Force – the team the Rebels beat two matches previously. They remedied that a week later with an emphatic 24-8 win over the Highlanders in Christchurch but are still having a poor season by their own standards.
They're looking to improve, and will make the most of this opportunity against a side whose season is all but over.
The Rebels sit 12th on the log with their beneficial eight bye-points for the season already banked. And it doesn't get any easier with return encounters against the table-topping Brumbies, the fourth-placed Reds along with the defending champion Chiefs to follow.
The only available opportunity for redemption for this team is against the Highlanders in July. In short, the Rebels need some kind of moral lifting performance against the Crusaders.
It is highly unlikely the Crusaders will allow themselves the same embarrassment they suffered when they lost to the Rebels last year. The Rebels showed grit and determination with ball in hand.
They showed plenty of belief in themselves on that occasion, but it won't be enough to blunt the Crusaders' campaign to qualify for the post-season.
Indeed, the seven-time champions' season is still very much alive. Sitting mid-table, they'll need to leapfrog the Hurricanes, Sharks and the Cheetahs to qualify for the play-offs… not an impossible task, starting with a big win against the Rebels.
Prediction: The Rebels have plenty of heart. They can often dig deep and defend resolutely, but they do it too often and for too long. Their inability to make score against the well structured opposition has been a long term weakness. The Crusaders by comparison have belief, talent and organisation. Crusaders by 15 points!
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Tom Marshall, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Tom Taylor, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Tyler Bleyendaal, 9 Willi Heinz, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock (c), 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Dominic Bird, 19 Jordan Taufua, 20 Andy Ellis, 21 Dan Carter, 22 Adam Whitelock.
Rebels: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Tom English, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Rory Sidey, 11 Cooper Vuna, 10 James O'Connor, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Scott Higginbotham (c), 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Jarrod Saffy, 5 Cadeyrn Neville, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Nic Henderson.
Replacements: 16 Shota Horie, 17 Paul Alo-Emile, 18 Luke Jones, 19 Gareth Delve, 20 Nic Stirzaker, 21 Angus Roberts, 22 Lachlan Mitchell.
Date: Sunday, April 28
Kick-off: 16:05 local (05:05 BST, 04:05 GMT)
Venue: AMI Stadium
Referee: Nick Briant (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand), Kane McBride (New Zealand)
Television match official: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)
By Paul Roberton