Super Rugby Aotearoa R5: Line-ups, odds, analysis

Five rounds in and we have two clear contenders for the inaugural Super Rugby Aotearoa title and a mouthwatering match up to highlight the mid-season point.

Unsurprisingly, the Crusaders sit top of the table with three straight wins. But the Blues boast the same unbeaten record, the Aucklanders at last finding some form after years at the bottom of the New Zealand conference.

Always one of the biggest New Zealand fixtures on the calendar, the rise of the Blues makes this week's clash even more exciting.

In the other match it's a battle for third place, with the Hurricanes hosting the Highlanders as they both look for their second win of the season.

Read on for fixtures, team lists and odds.

Saturday, July 11

Crusaders vs. Blues, Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch, 5:05pm (AEST)

Crusaders: David Havili, Sevu Reece, Braydon Ennor, Jack Goodhue, George Bridge, Richie Mo'unga, Bryn Hall, Whetukamokamo Douglas, Tom Christie, Tom Sanders, Mitchell Dunshea, Samuel Whitelock, Michael Alaalatoa, Codie Taylor (c), Joe Moody.

Replacements: Andrew Makalio, George Bower, Oliver Jager, Quinten Strange, Sione Havili, Mitchell Drummond, Fetuli Paea, Will Jordan.

Blues: Beauden Barrett, Mark Telea, Rieko Ioane, Harry Plummer, Caleb Clarke, Otere Black, Finlay Christie, Hoskins Sotutu, Dalton Papalii, Akira Ioane, Josh Goodhue, Patrick Tuipulotu (c), Ofa Tuungafasi, James Parsons, Alex Hodgman.

Replacements: Kurt Eklund, Karl Tu'inukuafe, Sione Mafileo, Aaron Carroll, Blake Gibson, Jonathan Ruru, TJ Faiane, Matt Duffie.

Odds []: Crusaders $1.40, Blues $3.00; Crusaders -7.5 1.90, Blues +7.5 $1.90

Verdict: In what's sure to be the biggest clash of the Aotearoa season, the Crusaders and Blues have made changes to their winning sides in the top-of-the-table clash. Both sides remain unbeaten after three matches apiece with a win on Saturday extending the Crusaders' lead on top of the table, while a win for the Blues could see them shuffle to top spot. Expect sparks to fly as the two heavyweights face-off in Christchurch, with both sides pack full of attacking prowess, but the Crusaders at home is a beast hard to contain. While the Blues will keep it close, expect the Crusaders to keep their cool. Crusaders by 5

Sunday, July 12

Hurricanes vs. Highlanders, Sky Stadium, Wellington, 1:35pm (AEST)

Hurricanes: Jordie Barrett, Kobus Van Wyk, Vince Aso, Ngani Laumape, Ben Lam, Fletcher Smith, TJ Perenara, Ardie Savea, Du'Plessis Kirifi, Devan Flanders, Scott Scrafton, James Blackwell, Tyrel Lomax, Asafo Aumua, Ben May.

Replacements: Ricky Riccitelli, Pouri Rakete-Stones, Alex Fidow, Vaea Fifita, Murphy Taramai, Jamie Booth, Billy Proctor, Wes Goosen.

Highlanders: Michael Collins, Scott Gregrory, Rob Thompson, Sio Tomkinson, Jona Nareki, Mitch Hunt, Aaron Smith (cc), Marino Mikaele-Tu'u, Dillon Hunt, Shannon Frizell, Jack Whetton, Pari Pari Parkinson, Siate Tokolahi, Ash Dixon (cc), Ayden Johnstone.

Replacements: Liam Coltman, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Jeff Thwaites, Manaaki Selby-Rickit, Jesse Parete, Teariki Ben-Nicholas, Kayne Hammington, Bryn Gatland.

Odds []: Hurricanes $1.40, Highlanders $3.00; Hurricanes -7.5 $1.90, Highlanders +7.5, $1.90

Verdict: A must win clash for both sides, the Hurricanes come into Sunday's clash with confidence after they downed the Chiefs for their first win despite defending a man down for 25minutes. With the return of Jordie Barrett from injury they look threatening with ball in hand and his mammoth boot provides an extra dynamic to the side. Meanwhile, the Highlanders will be disappointed with last week's result against the Crusaders after they kept the game close for much of the match. They'll want reward for their performances so far, but with the wind at their back, the Hurricanes will be hard to overcome. Hurricanes by 5

BYE: Chiefs