Round Sixteen continues on Super Saturday with four more blockbusting local derbies to ramp up rivalries and spice up the race to the play-offs.
With nine teams still in contention of reaching the finals, there is still so much to play for even for franchises out of contention with many of the lowest ranked teams able to provide spoiler for those seeking a place in the play-offs.
Crusaders v Hurricanes
The Crusaders will look to hit the ground running and pick up where they left off four weeks ago when they host the Hurricanes in Saturday's crunch derby clash in Christchurch.
Whether the men in red and black can replicate the form which saw them put 50-plus points past the Blues and Highlanders before the enforced break remains to be seen though, with three of their star All Blacks ruled out.
There will be no Dan Carter pulling the strings, whilst number eight Kieran Read and full-back Israel Dagg have also been sidelined with injuries picked up in New Zealand's recent series win over Ireland.
All three were influential in the Crusaders' previous two bonus-point wins and will be missed against a Hurricanes side desperate to keep their play-off hopes alive.
The Hurricanes were given a bit of a rugby lesson when the two sides last met in round nine. The Crusaders won 42-14, scored five tries and Tom Taylor added a further 17 points with the boot.
With just three matches left until the finals, both sides can ill-afford any slip ups with the Crusaders set to play against the Chiefs away and the Force at home while the 'Canes are guaranteed four points from a bye next week before they battle the Chiefs at home in the final round.
The Hurricanes will feel confident of knocking over the seven-time champions, having won four of their last six matches - including a 66-24 hiding of the Melbourne Rebels and a 33-12 away win over the Waratahs. But the Crusaders on their own turf will be a different proposition.
And with so much at stake, this Super Rugby clash between the two Kiwi outfits promises to be as hard fought as any other gone before it.
Prediction: Whilst we don't foresee the same scoreline from when these two teams last met, we do expect the same result. Crusaders by seven!
Crusaders: 15 Sean Maitland, 14 Adam Whitelock, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Tom Taylor, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Richie McCaw (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Owen Franks, 18 Tom Donnelly/Ross Kennedy, 19 Luke Whitelock, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Tyler Bleyendaal, 22 Patrick Osborne.
Hurricanes: 15 Andre Taylor, 14 Alapati Leiua, 13 Conrad Smith (c), 12 Tim Bateman, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Chris Eaton, 8 Brad Shields, 7 Jack Lam / Karl Lowe, 6 Faifili Levave, 5 Jason Eaton, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Ben May, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Reg Goodes.
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu'u, 17 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 18 James Broadhurst, 19 Karl Lowe / Mark Reddish, 20 Frae Wilson, 21 Tusi Pisi, 22 Jayden Hayward.
Referee: Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand)
Western Force v Brumbies
The Brumbies will be wary of a Western Force side playing for pride and determined to give retiring lock Nathan Sharpe a good send-off in his last home game.
Sharpe, the most capped player in Super Rugby, retires at the end of the season and will be the centre of attention when the Force take on the high-flying Brumbies at nib Stadium on Saturday.
The Brumbies sit on top of the Australian conference and third overall, but will be nervously waiting to see how the 13th-placed Force react to Sharpe's big day.
Jake White's troops scraped past the Force 19-17 to open their Super Rugby campaign back in February, and will be banking on a fourth consecutive win over the men from the West to consolidate number one spot in the Aussie conference.
They've won four of their last five matches to stay on course for a place in the finals, while the lowly Force have only managed three wins so far this season and could still end up with the wooden spoon.
The Force beat the Lions 17-11 before the international break, so are chasing back-to-back wins in a bid to finish the year on a high and send Sharpe off on a winning note.
''You'd like to think that the guys would be able to extract another one or two per cent out of their games and their performance for the club and for Sharpie," said Force coach Phil Blake.
''But we need a committed 80-minute performance before we can start dancing in the streets.
''We've still got a lot to play for in the last three weeks of the competition, not least of which is for our fans, who have stuck by us throughout this season.
''We're certainly still looking to extract every win we can.''
Prediction: It's top versus bottom in the Aussie conference. Brumbies by six!
Western Force: 15 Alfie Mafi, 14 Nick Cummins, 13 Will Tupou, 12 Rory Sidey, 11 Napolioni Nalaga, 10 Ben Seymour, 9 Josh Holmes, 8 Matt Hodgson, 7 David Pocock (c), 6 Richard Brown, 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 Toby Lynn, 3 Salesi Ma'afu, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Elvis Taione, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Salesi Manu, 19 Phoenix Battye, 20 Lachlan McCaffrey, 21 Brett Sheehan, 22 David Harvey.
Brumbies: 15 Robbie Coleman, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Andrew Smith, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Jesse Mogg, 10 Zack Holmes, 9 Nic White, 8 Ben Mowen (c), 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Peter Kimlin, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Scott Fardy, 3 Dan Palmer, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Ben Alexander.
Replacements: 16 Anthony Hegaty, 17 Ruaidhri Murphy, 18 Leon Power, 19 Ita Vaea, 20 Ian Prior, 21 Tevita Kuridrani, 22 Cam Crawford.
Referee: Ian Smith (Australia)
Stormers v Lions
Newlands, Cape Town
The play-offs are within reach for the injury-depleted Stormers but there are a few banana skins lying on the path to a home knock-out game, starting this weekend with the visit of a side known for throwing a spanner in the works when you least expect it.
2012 has seen a tale of contrasting fortunes for these teams: The Stormers have lost just two games this season, while the Lions are coming off just their second win this year - against the Sharks at the start of the month.
The Jo'burg side have been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons this term with the threat of relegation made even worse by the off-field troubles that saw coach John Mitchell's recent suspension.
The Kiwi coach's unceremonious exit is exactly the sort of incident that is likely to spark a reaction in the psyche of your average rugby player and the Lions have proved themselves to be fighters.
They've also shown that they have what it takes to upset the tournament's big guns, as illustrated by that shock win over the Sharks when they were fantastic on attack
The Lions have not beaten the Stormers since February 2001 (back in the days of Super 12) - that's a 12-game losing streak against the team from the Cape. In fact, over the last six years the Stormers have averaged 2.4 tries to every one from the Lions.
But the visitors will rather draw positives from their last encounters with the current SA conference leaders. They lost by just five points at Ellis Park in March and outscored the hosts at Newlands two tries to one in this fixtures last year.
Indeed, Stormers coach Allister Coetzee will not be sleeping easily as he continues to grapple with a back-row injury crisis that has forced him to move Siya Kolisi to number eight while Tyrone Holmes makes his Super Rugby debut. Derrick Minnie will be licking his lips.
With Springbok lock Eben Etzebeth and Baby Boks prop Steven Kitshoff both rested, the Stormers pack that has been at the heart of their success this year suddenly looks a lot less formidable.
All that said, Saturday will not be the first time the Stormers have had to deal with absentees, yet they've continued to produce the goods - as they did at Loftus Versfeld. The return of Andries Bekker will also go someway to offset the loss of Etzebeth.
Even though the Lions are reeling after a turbulent season, Stormers captain Jean de Villiers knows where his team's focus should be as the playoffs loom.
"The Lions have a lot to play for, but we are playing for something bigger," said De Villiers.
"As long as the hunger and desire is there to win the tournament, we'll do well. We are playing for something special and that will make Saturday a great challenge."
Lions caretaker head coach and former Springbok lock Johan Ackermann realises his team faces a tough trip to Cape Town.
"There is a feeling we need to keep things straight and simple, and that the players are comfortable with the game plan," said Ackermann.
"On Saturday, it will be more a question of how well we execute our game plan. We know it will take an 80 minute effort. We need to be mentally strong this weekend."
Prediction: The Stormers have won two of the last three clashes between these sides by less than five points. The Lions' impressed against the Sharks last time out, suggesting they might be good enough for a losing bonus point. Stormers by seven
Stormers: 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villiers (c), 11 Gerhard van den Heever, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Siya Kolisi, 7 Don Armand, 6 Tyrone Holmes, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 De Kock Steenkamp, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Deon Fourie, 1 Deon Carstens.
Replacements: 16 Tiaan Liebenberg, 17 Brok Harris, 18 Quinn Roux, 19 Jebb Sinclair, 20 Louis Schrueder, 21 Burton Francis, 22 Bryan Habana.
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Deon van Rensburg, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Butch James, 11 Anthonie Volminck, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Joshua Strauss (c), 7 Grant Hattingh, 6 Derick Minnie, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Hendrik Roodt, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg
Replacements: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 CJ van der Linde/Ruaan Dreyer, 18 Ruan Botha, 19 Jaco Kriel, 20 Michael Bondesio, 21 Waylon Murray, 22 Ruan Combrinck.
Referee: Mark Lawrence
Bulls v Cheetahs
Loftus Versfeld Stadium, Pretoria
The Bulls have shown their intent in their bid to seal their spot in the play-offs by naming 14 Springboks in their starting XV for Saturday's clash with the Cheetahs.
The odd man out is outside centre, JJ Engelbrecht, who is an uncapped Springbok and was part of the Boks' squad for the recent series against England without playing in any of the matches.
Apart from Engelbrecht, 12 other Bulls were also in the Bok squad of which nine got game time and although Zane Kirchner was injured after the first Test in Durban, he is now fully recovered and Ludeke is happy that he had a full squad to choose his his run-on side from.
"We are lucky to have all our players back from international duty injury free and ready to go," he said.
"The series win against England will do wonders for their confidence, while those not involved with the Boks are refreshed and ready to go. Our Springboks are not international players for nothing, they have the mental strength to recover quickly from disappointing performances."
The match will have extra significance for Bulls and Springboks centre Wynand Olivier who will become the 15th South African player to play 100 Super Rugby matches.
Ludeke's men are still smarting after their defeat at home to the Stormers in the last match in Round 15. That result could prove costly for the home side as it has almost certainly ruled out their chances of hosting a home semi-final.
Despite never beating the Bulls in eight previous Super Rugby matches, don't expect the Cheetahs to accept their fate when they arrive at Loftus on Saturday.
The men from Bloemfontein are on the brink of achieving a monumental achievement. If they win one of their remaining three round robin matches, it means that they have achieved their most successful ever season in the tournament's history as they would have bettered by one their record of winning five matches in a season which they notched in 2007, 2010 and 2011.
Coach Naka Drotské fancies his team to pull of an upset this weekend.
"We're very excited to be going to Pretoria," he revealed.
"Only two of our players were involved with the Boks recently and the rest of the squad prepared well and also got some necessary rest.
"We need one win to make it our best season yet and we're very motivated to go to Loftus and do well."
Prediction: The Bulls will be keen to bounce back after that loss to the Stormers and with 14 Springboks in their starting XV they should have too much firepower for their opponents. Bulls by 12 points
Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies (c), 7 Jacques Potgieter, 6 Dewald Potgieter, 5 Juandre Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 CJ Stander, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Louis Fouche, 22 Francois Venter.
Cheetahs: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Philip Snyman, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Andries Strauss, 11 Rocco Jansen, 10 Riaan Smit, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Ashley Johnson, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Heinrich Brussow, 5 Andries Ferreira, 4 Izak van der Westhuizen, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Replacements: 16 Hercu Liebenberg, 17 WP Nel, 18 George Earle, 19 Justin Downey, 20 Tewis de Bruyn, 21 Sias Ebersohn, 22 Nico Scheepers.
Referee:Marius Jonker (South Africa)