The tournament's bottom-placed side, the Hurricanes, face another tough assignment when they host the Cheetahs on Saturday.
The tournament's bottom-placed side, the Hurricanes, face another tough assignment when they host the Cheetahs in Wellington on Saturday.
Even though the competition is still in its early stages, Hurricanes boss Mark Hammett is already feeling the heat as his side is the only one yet to register a victory.
The Hurricanes are currently on an eight-match losing streak, stretching back to last season. Their 2014 campaign kicked off with away losses against the Sharks and Stormers and they came up short again with another below par performance in their home defeat to the Brumbies last weekend.
That loss was a rude awakening for Hurricanes, who were outplayed in most facets and Hammett expects a much improved performance from his charges this weekend.
“I said to the group that I don't give a stuff about how you prepare if we have another performance like that,” he told Reuters.
“This is a chance to remedy that, but there are 15 guys in a Cheetahs jersey who will be doing everything they can to stop that, so it doesn't matter how passionate or angry you get, you still have to get your core skills right.”
Apart from their poor start, the Hurricanes also have extra motivation to do well as their captain Conrad Smith is playing his 100th Super Rugby match for the franchise.
Hammett has brought highly-rated openside flanker Ardie Savea into his starting line-up for the first time this season. The 20-year-old's battle with in-form Cheetahs scavenger Boom Prinsloo for the loose ball could be decisive in deciding the outcome of this clash.
The Cheetahs will fancy their chances of adding to the home side's woes as their last visit to Wellington, in 2012, saw them produce a memorable 47-38 victory over the Hurricanes which was the Bloemfontein-based franchise's first triumph on New Zealand soil.
Last weekend, the Cheetahs were unlucky to leave Brisbane empty-handed after they went down in a high-scoring encounter to the Reds. The Reds beat the Bloemfontein-based side 43-33 and the visitors were cruelly denied a bonus-point when Quade Cooper slotted a penalty in injury time.
After that defeat – their third in four matches – Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske has made some changes to his run-on side in a bid to return to the victory trail.
The Cheetahs turned a corner in last year's competition when, for the first time, they reached the play-offs where they lost narrowly to eventual runners-up the Brumbies.
One of the main reasons for the men from Bloemfontein's fine overall performance in 2013 was their form on the road as they claimed three out of four victories. They started their tour this year with losses to the Rebels and Reds and know another defeat could dent their morale even further, ahead of next weekend's clash against the Blues in Auckland.
Seven members of the Cheetahs' squad on that day in Wellington two years ago, will be in action again this weekend – they are Willie le Roux, Johan Goosen, Philip van der Walt, Adriaan Strauss, Trevor Nyakane, Andries Ferreira and Hennie Daniller.
Daniller and Strauss were amongst the try-scorers back in 2012, while Goosen slotted four conversions and three penalty goals against the 'Canes. But despite that impressive performance, the Hurricanes know they have the ability claim victory. They secured a 39-34 win over the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein last year and in eight previous matches between these sides, the Hurricanes have been victorious on five occasions and the Cheetahs thrice.
Prediction: Despite their poor form, the Hurricanes will be highly-motivated to win this one for their captain. The Cheetahs will run them close but the Hurricanes will win by three points!
Hurricanes: 15 James Marshall, 14 Alapati Leiua, 13 Conrad Smith (c), 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Chris Smylie, 8 Blade Thomson, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Faifili Levave, 5 Mark Reddish, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Ben Franks.
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu'u, 17 Chris Eves, 18 John Schwalger, 19 James Broadhurst, 20 Jack Lam, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Matt Proctor, 23 Marty Banks.
Cheetahs: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Pieter LabuschagnÃ©, 6 Johannes Prinsloo, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Lodewyk de Jager, 3 Nicolaas van Dyk, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), Caylib Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Rossouw de Klerk, 19 Andries Ferreira, 20 Jean Cook, 21 Shaun Venter, 22 Elgar Watts, 23 Hennie Daniller.
Date: Saturday, March 15
Venue: Westpac Stadium
Kick-off: 16.35 local (03.35 GMT)
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)