Day Two of the opening round kicks off with an unpredictable derby in Hamilton and ends with high-octane affair on the Highveld.
Day Two of the opening round of Super Rugby kicks off with an unpredictable derby in Hamilton and ends with high-octane affair on the Highveld.
In between, the Reds will start their title defence in arguably the toughest game they will face in the Australian conference in Sydney before the Stormers begin their bid to top the South African pool at home to the new-look Hurricanes.
Chiefs v Highlanders
Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
You would have to be very brave to place a bet on the outcome of this game as two of the most unpredictable teams in the world's most unpredictable competition go head to head in a Kiwi derby.
The Highlanders provided the highlight of the first few rounds last year as they made a mockery of the history books to be amongst the early-season pacesetters. They'll no doubt be out for a repeat, although this time around they'll hope to maintain that momentum all the way through to August.
The Chiefs by contrast did what they did best and blew hot and cold last season. The new-look backline in Hamilton has many fans excited as Richard Kahui and Sonny Bill Williams are set to launch their campaign to unseat the incumbent All Blacks midfield. Complimented by newcomers Aaron Cruden and Robbie Robinson, the Chiefs have one the strongest attacks – on paper at least – in the tournament.
The question remains whether their pack can produce the quality ball needed to unleash all that firepower.
Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph was forced to delay the announcement of his team because of a lengthy injury list which includes Ma'afu Fia (hamstring), Jarrad Hoeata (shoulder), Siale Piutau (ankle), Kade Poki (knee), Kenny Lynn (neck) and Shaun Treeby (knee).
He has nevertheless named a strong side with starting centre outside Tamati Ellison and replacement loose forward James Haskell fresh off the plane from Japan.
Keep an eye on former Hurricanes Andrew Hore and Hosea Gear, who will be out to make an impression for their new team
Prediction: While the Chiefs have won eight of the last ten matches between these sides, they are separated by an average score of just two points! It's hard to argue against the Chiefs' home record against the Highlanders, who could lack a bit of cohesion considering their late arrivals and injury issues. The Chiefs by seven points in a high-scoring clash.
Chiefs: 15 Robbie Robinson, 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Richard Kahui, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Tim Nanai-Williams, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam (capt), 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Craig Clarke, 3 Ben Afeaki, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Arizona Taumalolo.
Replacements: 16 Mahonri Schwalger, 17 Toby Smith, 18 Michael Fitzgerald, 19 Tanerau Latimer, 20 Tawera Kerr- Barlow, 21 Andrew Horrell, 22 Asaeli Tikoirotuma.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Buxton Popoali'i, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Chris Noakes, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 John Hardie, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Nick Crosswell, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Chris King, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Jamie Mackintosh (c).
Replacements: 16 Jason Rutledge, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Culum Retallick, 19 James Haskell, 20 Aaron Smith, 21 Lima Sopoaga, 22 Kurt Baker.
Kick-off: 19:35 (06:35 GMT)
Referee: Jonathon White (New Zealand)
Waratahs v Reds
ANZ Stadium, Sydney
In the second of the all-Australian derbies, last year's top Aussie finishes, the Waratahs and the Reds, face-off in Sydney.
Both sides are hampered by injury heading into the game, with playmaker Quade Cooper (knee), hooker Saia Fainga'a (ankle) and winger Rod Davies (hamstring) missing out for the Reds. The 'Tahs have an even lengthier injury list with Berrick Barnes (groin) Drew Mitchell (ankle), Lachie Turner (hamstring), Rocky Elsom (hamstring) and Dan Vickerman (leg) on the sidelines.
Of the two teams, the defending champions the Reds certainly have the momentum heading into the clash after their successful 2011 campaign, but this Week One tie could come down to who responds best in the face of notably absentees.
Mike Harris is the man charged with replacing Cooper and the 23-year-old will be desperate to get off to a strong start, especially as he has Ben Lucas breathing down his neck, with the fly-half berth not yet confirmed.
New Waratahs recruit, scrum-half Sarel Pretorius will be eager to put as much pressure as possible on Harris, with the nuggety South African a real livewire.
Despite the absence of quality finishers Turner, Mitchell and Davies, there are plenty of players capable of creating and scoring five-pointers there should be a few tries despite the fact that it should be a close encounter.
Prediction: The Waratahs enjoyed a good pre-season and under new coach Michael Foley they'll be eager to get off to a strong start. If the Waratahs can dominate up front – and with a front row of Sekope Kepu, Tatafu Polota-Nau and Benn Robinson – it's certainly a possibility, the hosts could sneak a win. It's going to be tight but the Waratahs may cause in upset by taking it by three even without Barnes.
Waratahs: 15 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 14 Tom Kingston, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Tom Carter, 11 Brackin Karauria-Henry, 10 Daniel Halangahu (capt), 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Dean Mumm, 4 Kane Douglas, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Damien Fitzpatrick, 17 Paddy Ryan, 18 Lopeti Timani, 19 Jono Jenkins, 20 Brendan McKibbin, 21 Bernard Foley, 22 Nathan Trist.
Reds: 15 Luke Morahan, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Anthony Faingaa, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Mike Harris, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Beau Robinson, 6 Scott Higginbotham, 5 James Horwill (capt), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 James Slipper, 2 James Hanson, 1 Ben Daley.
Replacements: 16 Albert Anae, 17 Greg Holmes, 18 Van Humphries, 19 Radike Samo, 20 Liam Gill, 21 Ben Lucas, 22 Jono Lance.
Kick-off: 19:40 (08:40 GMT)
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Stormers v Hurricanes
Newlands, Cape Town
Last season's South African conference winners have the luxury of starting their campaign at home against a side tipped by most to struggle this year.
It's been nearly six years since the Hurricanes last won in Cape Town and few would bet on the visitors' young side causing an upset at Newlands. The Stormers have beaten the Hurricanes in three of their previous four clashes, including the last two times they have met in Cape Town
The home side will look to hit the running and know that a strong start will be vital in their bid to make the semi-finals for the third successive year. The Capetonians are playing four of their opening five matches at home, and it's not until round seven when they meet the Highlanders in Dunedin that they