Round Four of Super Rugby gets under way with the unbeaten Brumbies and Stormers taking on the Chiefs and Blues respectively.
Round Four of Super Rugby gets under way on Friday with the unbeaten Brumbies and Stormers taking on the Chiefs and Blues respectively.
The Bulls, Crusaders and Lions have a bye this weekend, leaving just six games to be played in what will be very testing fourth-round encounters.
The Chiefs kick-off this weekend's events against the Brumbies, who will be out to break a six-game losing streak in New Zealand.
The action then makes its way to Cape Town where the refreshed Stormers will look to make home advantage count when they tackle the dangerous Blues. The Kiwis will be banking on a repeat performance as displayed in last week's impressive win over the Bulls.
Chiefs v Brumbies
Bay Park Stadium, Mount Maunganui
The Brumbies – unbelievably – will be looking to make it a hat-trick of wins in Super Rugby on Friday, but face their sternest test yet when they take on the Chiefs.
After three rounds, the Brumbies have picked up two wins (in between a bye) over the Force and Cheetahs respectively to surprise the pundits by sitting comfortably in fourth place on the overall log and second in the Australian Conference on level points with the table-topping Reds.
Granted, both victories have been at home against regular strugglers in the competition. But a win is a win and Brumbies fans certainly won't be complaining.
However, the trick now is to keep the momentum going as Jake White and his troops make the trip across the Tasman for their first away game of the season.
Perhaps they'll consider themselves fortunate to be playing the Chiefs – who they beat last year in Canberra – at the Kiwi outfit's home away from home when they visit Baypark in Mt Maunganui, instead of Hamilton's Waikato Stadium.
But the Chiefs showed last week that they can beat anyone anywhere following their impressive result against the Crusaders in Napier, and – like the Brumbies – will also be looking to make it three wins on the trot.
The Chiefs have managed to overcome their injuries so far and know if they can keep backing the replacements to do the job, they have a good shot at beating the unbeaten Brumbies and banking the four points for the bye as well to be in a strong position after five weeks of the competition.
“It's really important for us this week,” said Chiefs coach Dave Rennie, whose side face their first Australian opponent after being involved in New Zealand derbies over the past three weeks.
“We're well aware we get to go into a break and to go into it on a high note would be important for us and bank a few more points to stay in touch with the guys up front.
“The Brumbies are a side that win tight games. They are unbeaten at the moment and I'm sure they'll be pretty fired up.”
Prediction: Minus their second-half hiccup against the Highlanders in Round One, the Chiefs have been one of the most impressive teams so far this season. We're expecting them to bring the Brumbies back down to earth with a mighty thud. Chiefs by 20 points.
Chiefs: 15 Robbie Robinson, 14 Richard Kahui, 13 Jackson Willison, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Tim Nanai-Williams, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Liam Messam (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Tanerau Latimer, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Craig Clarke, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Mahonri Schwalger, 1 Arizona Taumalolo.
Replacements: 16 Marcel Cummings-Toone, 17 Josh Hohneck, 18 Kane Thompson, 19 Scott Waldrom, 20 Augustine Pulu, 21 Andrew Horrell, 22 Maritino Nemani.
Brumbies: 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Pat McCabe, 13 Andrew Smith, 12 Joe Tomane, 11 Henry Speight, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Ian Prior, 8 Ben Mowen, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Peter Kimlin, 4 Leon Power, 3 Dan Palmer, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Ben Alexander.
Replacements: 16 Anthony Hegarty, 17 Ruaidhri Murphy, 18 Sam Carter, 19 Ita Vaea, 20 Nic White, 21 Zack Holmes, 22 Cam Crawford.
Kick-off: 19:35 (06:35 GMT)
Referee: Ian Smith (Australia)
Stormers v Blues
Newlands, Cape Town
The Stormers won't have an easy return from their bye when they tackle the Blues at Newlands in Cape Town on Friday.
The hosts are unbeaten thus far, but have played one match less than their Kiwi opponents who finally opened their Super Rugby account with a comprehensive 29-23 win over the Bulls.
Last weekend's result was a confidence-boosting victory for the men from Auckland and the Stormers will know they have a real test on their hands.
The Blues started the season as favourites, but their title credentials were dented following their opening two defeats to the Crusaders and Chiefs in New Zealand. However, their dominant showing at the daunting Loftus Versfeld should now put the early season criticism to bed.
It's never easy to win in Pretoria, but the Blues made it look simple with fly-half Gareth Anscombe contributing all of his side's points – including two tries – in a magnificent individual display. It would have made his opposite number this weekend Peter Grant – and everyone else for that matter – sit up and take notice.
Grant returns to the Stormers starting line-up after impressing off the bench in his side's two victories over the Hurricanes (39-26) and Sharks (15-12), with their South African counterparts forced to watch the former Bok send over the match-winning penalty two minutes from full-time.
Grant is the only change to the Stormers side that beat the Sharks in week two, bolstering the back division, which also includes Bok centres Jean de Villiers and Juan de Jongh and Test wings Bryan Habana and Gio Aplon.
With Grant in the side the Stormers have to make a tough decision over who will kick at goal.
Full-back Joe Pietersen has been entrusted with the duties thus far this season, but his waywardness off the tee almost cost them the game against the Sharks which was eventually clinched by the steady boot of Grant.
In what is expected to be another tight tussle between the two sides, a reliable goal-kicker will be of utmost importance for both teams with Anscombe looking to pick up where he left off in Pretoria where he contributed 19 points with the boot.
The visitors will be playing without their World Cup-winning flanker Jerome Kaino (injured), All Blacks lock Anthony Boric (injured) and stand-out back Rene Ranger (suspended), while they're also missing key players Rudi Wulf, Isaia Toeava and Tony Woodock – all nursing injuries back in Auckland.
However, Coetzee refuses to underestimate this injury/suspended-hit Blues side and is under no illusions of what to expect on Friday.
“This is a very tough Blues side, as we saw last week,” said Coetzee.
“They had the Bulls under pressure at the set pieces, which means our accuracy in the tight phases will be very important. It's also vital against any New Zealand side to make sure you are physical and direct to gain forward momentum.
“It's nice to still be