Super Rugby Aotearoa R8: Line-ups, odds, analysis

Aaron Cruden returns to start at No. 10 for the Chiefs' home game against the Crusaders Michael Bradley/Getty Images

Super Rugby Aotearoa may be into its closing weeks and while the injury toll has been high, all five teams continue to produce high-quality fixtures.

Both of last week's games weren't decided until the final minutes and it looks like being a similar story in Round 8 despite the fact the Chiefs remain winless and that they face the Crusaders on Saturday

Read on for fixtures, team lists, odds and analysis of both matches.

Saturday, August 1

Chiefs vs. Crusaders, FMG Stadium Waikato, Hamilton, 5:05pm (AEST)

Chiefs: Damian McKenzie, Shaun Stevenson, Anton Lienert-Brown, Alex Nankivell, Sean Wainui, Aaron Cruden, Brad Weber; Pita Gus Sowakula, Sam Cane (c), Lachlan Boshier, Mitchell Brown, Tupou Vaa'i, Nepo Laulala, Bradley Slater, Reuben O'Neill.

Replacements: Samisoni Taukei'aho, Ollie Norris, Angus Ta'avao, Natoi Ah Koi, Simon Parker, Lisati Milo-Harris, Kaleb Trask, Quinn Tupaea.

Crusaders: Will Jordan, Sevu Reece, Fetuli Paea, Jack Goodhue, George Bridge, Richie Mo'unga, Mitchell Drummond; Tom Sanders Tom Christie, Sione Havili, Mitchell Dunshea, Sam Whitelock, Michael Alaalatoa, Codie Taylor, George Bower.

Replacements: Andrew Makalio, Isileli Tu'ungafasi, Oliver Jager, Quinten Strange, Billy Harmon, Bryn Hall, Brett Cameron, Leicester Fainga'anuku.

Odds [tab.com.au]: Chiefs $3.50 (+9.5 $1.85), Crusaders $1.30 (-9.5 $1.95)

Verdict: All good things must come to an end and that was always going to include the Crusaders' astonishing unbeaten run at home, which was finally brought to a close by the Hurricanes last weekend. That defeat will have stung the 10-time Super Rugby champions not just on the account that their run was done, but for the fact they made some critical errors at crucial times, which is very unlike the Crusaders. This looks like the perfect game to bounce back immediately on paper, but it was only six months ago that the Chiefs took down the Crusaders in Hamilton; they were right in the contest in their earlier Super Rugby Aotearoa encounter, too. The Chiefs also did everything but beat the Blues last week and with their big names having another run under their belts, and Aaron Cruden back in the starting side, the upset is on. Chiefs by 3.

Sunday, August 2

Highlanders vs. Blues, Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin, 1:35pm (AEST)

Highlanders: Mitch Hunt, Josh McKay, Michael Collins, Sio Tomkinson, Scott Gregory, Josh Ioane, Aaron Smith, Marino Mikaele-Tu'u, Dillon Hunt, Shannon Frizell, Jack Whetton, Pari Pari Parkinson, Jeff Thwaites, Ash Dixon, Ayden Johnstone.

Replacements Liam Coltman, Ethan de Groot, Siate Tokolahi, Manaaki Selby-Rickit, Jesse Parete, Folau Fakatava, Bryn Gatland, Jona Nareki

Blues: Matt Duffie, Mark Telea, Rieko Ioane, TJ Faiane, Caleb Clarke, Beauden Barrett, Finlay Christie; Akira Ioane, Blake Gibson, Dalton Papalii, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Patrick Tuipulotu, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Kurt Eklund, Karl Tu'inukuafe.

Replacements: Luteru Tolai, Alex Hodgman, Sione Mafileo, Josh Goodhue, Tony Lamborn, Sam Nock, Otere Black, Harry Plummer.

Odds [tab.com.au]: Highlanders $3.50 (+4.5 $1.85), Blues $1.55 (-4.5 $1.85)

Verdict: With a bye next week, it's a must win match for the Blues if they hope to remain in the title race. Keeping their hopes alive with a tight four-point win over the Chiefs last week, coach Leon MacDonald has shown faith in his side making just one change to his line-up, switching around All Black Karl Tu'inukuafe and Alex Hodgman at loosehead prop. Beauden Barrett gets another crack at the first receiver position, after he showed glimpses of what he can do creating space and opportunities. Meanwhile, the Highlanders have made several changes to their side as they look to edge closer to the title contenders. Last time the two sides faced off, the Blues were able to exploit the Highlanders defensive lapses, and secured a tight three-point victory. They'll be hoping to do the same this weekend, but the Highlanders present a challenging task, especially at home on a fast, dry deck in Dunedin. Blues by 3

BYE: Hurricanes