Round Nine continues on Saturday with some crunch Super Rugby clashes that could determine a potential new tournament leader.
The Chiefs (31 points) currently lead the race, but could be knocked off top spot if they lose to the eighth-placed Sharks and either one of the Stormers (28), Bulls (28) or Highlanders (26) win their respective clashes against the Reds, Brumbies and Blues.
Four matches to preview, lets get to it then!
Hurricanes v Crusaders
Westpac Stadium, Wellington
The Hurricanes will hope to pick up where they left off a fortnight ago when they return from their bye to tackle the Crusaders in the New Zealand capital.
Two bonus points separate the sixth-placed Hurricanes and the seventh-placed Crusaders on the Super Rugby ladder and victory this weekend would be vital for either side.
The hosts have suprised everyone but themselves having proved their pre-season critics wrong with four wins and three losses thus far this season, but their leaky defence cost them a potential win over the Cheetahs in week six.
They're well rested after demolishing the Sharks in Round Seven, but will be without in-form rookie scrum-half TJ Perenara (ankle) and Jack Lam (concussion) for Saturday's crucial derby clash.
The Hurricanes take on a buoyant Crusaders side that tipped over the previously unbeaten Stormers in Christchurch last Saturday, with Tom Taylor scoring all his side's points in the seven-time champions' 31-24 win.
Although the Crusaders have lost three games this year, the Christchurch-based side have carved out a niche of peaking at the right time in the Super Rugby competition and will be a tough nut to crack come kick-off at the Cake Tin - a venue the Hurricanes are yet to taste victory this season after they were beaten by the Highlanders (19-17) and the Cheetahs (47-38).
To beat the Crusaders, Hurricanes fans will be hoping for more of the same attacking rugby from their team that they've produced to date. So far, just the fourth placed Bulls (234 points) and the 11th placed Cheetahs (227 points, in eight games) have scored more points than the Hurricanes (225).
The Hurricanes and the Bulls have scored the joint most tries (26) so far, while the Crusaders have scored 174 points and scored 13 tries.
To continue their collective electric streak further out, the forwards will need to match the Crusaders pack that had seven of its eight starting members against the Stormers as All Blacks plus Owen Franks on the bench.
The match will also be a special milestone for Crusaders pivot cum centre Dan Carter, who runs out for his 100th game for the franchise.
Prediction: Home ground advantage hasn't proved very helpful for the 'Canes at Westpac Stadium this season, but they should put up a decent fight only to lose their way at the end. Crusaders by six!
Hurricanes: 15 Andre Taylor, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith (c), 12 Tim Bateman, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Chris Eaton, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Karl Lowe, 6 Faifili Levave, 5 Jeremy Thrush, 4 Jason Eaton, 3 Jeffery Tooamga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Ben May.
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu'u, 17 Michael Bent, 18 James Broadhurst, 19 Mark Reddish, 20 Frae Wilson, 21 Tusi Pisi, 22 Alapati Leiua.
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Adam Whitleock, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Dan Carter, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Tom Taylor, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Tom Donnelly, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Owen Franks, 18 Luke Romano, 19 Luke Whitelock, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Ryan Crotty, 22 Tom Marshall.
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Waratahs v Melbourne Rebels
Sydney Football Stadium
Saturday's second game pits the 'Tahs against the Rebels in a game doubters are predicting could be an under-whelming affair at Sydney Football Stadium.
Let's face it, the Rebels cannot get much worse than their 37-6 reverse at the Brumbies last week. They were a team lacking in cohesion, hunger, ideas; you name it they were falling short. Such was the showing that it added weight to talk that one cannot throw individuals together expecting greatness.
Wallaby back James O'Connor was arguably the only one of the Danny Cipriani and Kurtley Beale triumvirate that offered any real threat in Canberra as Jake White's side made easy work of their opponents, who failed to cross the whitewash or in fact make it even close to threatening for a five-pointer.
Now the big question is, could that epic low be the springboard to right some wrongs - note the sugar-coating of things and adding the positive spin. Changes to the line-up that lost last weekend sees Lloyd Johansson and Michael Lipman given starting positions ahead of Mitch Inman and Al Campbell. Lipman will add more grunt to the pack alongside Jarrod Saffy and Gareth Delve while Luke Jones' shift back into the engine room may help Hugh Pyle.
They face a side this week that will undoubtedly have an eye on topping the Australian conference. The Waratahs will be buoyed by their most recent showing, when they defeated Western Force 23-18 in a result that moved them level with the Reds and just three points off the pace-setting Brumbies.
It has been their flankers who have stolen the show thus far this term as Chris Alcock continues to impress on the openside while converted lock Dave Dennis was superb against the Force, fully deserving his try. If they, like the Brumbies, can attack the Rebels' pack then it may be another home win.
A boost for them is that former Wallabies captain Rocky Elsom has been named on an eight-man bench for what could be his first 'Tahs game since 2008,
Prediction: Waratahs will be too strong and savvy. Home win by 7!
Waratahs: 15 Bernard Foley, 14 Tom Kingston, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Tom Carter, 11 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 10 Berrick Barnes, 9 Brendan McKibbin, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson (c).
Replacements: 16 Rocky Elsom, 17 Daniel Halangahu, 18 Jono Jenkins, 19 Sarel Pretorius, 20 Paddy Ryan, 21 Lopeti Timani, 22 Sitaleki Timani, 23 John Ulugia.
Melbourne Rebels: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Lachlan Mitchell, 13 Lloyd Johansson, 12 James O'Connor, 11 Mark Gerrard, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Gareth Delve (c), 7 Michael Lipman, 6 Jarrod Saffy, 5 Hugh Pyle, 4 Luke Jones, 3 Rodney Blake, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Nic Henderson.
Replacements: 16 Luke Holmes, 17 Jono Owen, 18 Al Campbell, 19 Tim Davidson, 20 Richard Kingi, 21 Julian Huxley, 22 Cooper Vuna.
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)
Sharks v Chiefs
Kings Park Stadium, Durban
If the Sharks beat the Chiefs, they will manage what only the Highlanders could achieve in this