Super Rugby AU R9 & Aotearoa R8: Line-ups, odds, analysis

Tim Anstee returns to the Force line-up. Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images

It's down to the pointy end of the season with just two rounds left in Super AU and another three across the Tasman.

While the top two has already been secured in Australia, there's still a race between the Rebels, Force and even the Waratahs for a third finals spot.

Meanwhile across the ditch, the Crusaders may be holding top spot now, but the remaining position in the final is up for grabs.

Read on as we bring you the latest line-ups, team news, odds and analysis for all four fixtures this weekend.

SUPER RUGBY AU

Saturday, April 17

Western Force vs. Waratahs, HBF Park, Perth 7.45pm [AEST]

Force: Jack McGregor, Richard Kahui, Tevita Kuridrani, Kyle Godwin (c), Jordan Olowofela, Domingo Miotti, Tomas Cubelli; Brynard Stander, Kane Koteka, Tim Anstee, Sitaleki Timani, Jeremy Thrush, Santiago Medrano, Feleti Kaitu'u, Tom Robertson.

Replacements: Andrew Ready, Angus Wagner, Greg Holmes, Ryan McCauley, Fergus Lee-Warner, Ian Prior, Grason Makara, Jake Strachan

Waratahs: Jack Maddocks, Alex Newsome, Izaia Perese, Lalakai Foketi, James Ramm, Ben Donaldson, Jake Gordon (c), Will Harris, Carlo Tizzano, Lachlan Swinton, Max Douglas, Hugh Sinclair, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Dave Porecki, Angus Bell,

Replacements: Tom Horton, Te Tera Faulkner, Darcy Breen, Sam Caird, Jeremy Williams, Charlie Gamble, Jack Grant, Tane Edmed

Odds [tab.com.au]: Force $1.36 [-6.5 $1.90], Waratahs $3.10 [+6.5 $1.90]

Verdict: A big crowd is expected at HBF Park in what is a hugely important game for the Force, a win on Saturday night will push them above the Rebels and into third place on the ladder ahead of the Melbourne side's game against the Brumbies on Sunday. Certainly this game appears a little bit tougher to call than a few weeks ago, at least if the Waratahs' gutsy showing against the Brumbies is anything to go by. Jake Gordon's return brought about an immediate improvement in their attack, though the skipper has been paired with Ben Donaldson this week, the Randwick fly-half's inclusion drawing more than just a tad of off-field criticism. The Force will have taken huge confidence from their tireless defensive showing in Melbourne last week but they are still searching for that little bit of thrust in attack. The Waratahs have nothing to lose and will likely throw everything at the Force, from all parts of the field. There is more than just a whiff of an upset about this one. Waratahs by 3.

Sunday, April 18

Melbourne Rebels vs. Brumbies, AAMI Park, Melbourne, 2:00pm [AEST]

Rebels: Tom Pincus , Frank Lomani, Stacey Ili, Campbell Magnay, Marika Koroibete, Matt To'omua (c), Joe Powell; Michael Wells, Richard Hardwick, Josh Kemeny, Trevor Hosea, Rob Leota, Pone Faamausili, James Hanson, Matt Gibbon.

Replacements: Jordan Uelese, Cabous Eloff, Cameron Orr, Lucio Sordoni, Ross Haylett-Petty, Isi Naisarani, Brad Wilkin, James Tuttle, Lewis Holland, Glen Vaihu (two to omit)

Brumbies: Tom Banks, Andy Muirhead, Len Ikitau, Bayley Kuenzle, Tom Wright, Noah Lolesio, Ryan Lonergan, Rob Valetini; Rory Scott, James Tucker, Cadeyrn Neville, Darcy Swain, Allan Alaalatoa, Folau Fainga'a, Scott Sio.

Replacements: Lachlan Lonergan, James Slipper, Tom Ross, Nick Frost, Will Miller, Nic White, Reesjan Pasitoa, Mack Hansen

Odds [tab.com.au]: Rebels $3.40 [+7.5 $1.95], Brumbies $1.58 [-7.5 $1.85]

Verdict: The Rebels had enough possession and territory to win five games of footy last week, but repeatedly failed to land the dagger blow and questions remains about their ability to turn chances into five-pointers. They are boosted by the return of Isi Naisarani off the bench but still face a huge challenge to get by the Brumbies. It's true, Dan McKellar's side has traditionally struggled against the Rebels and only a post-siren penalty saw them home in the corresponding game in Canberra earlier in the year. The Brumbies, too, have been hit by niggles with Pete Samu, Irae Simone and Tom Cusack all missing this week. They should still have too much class and quality of execution to defeat the Rebels, though it may be a closer contest than you might think. Brumbies by 7.

BYE: Reds

SUPER RUGBY AOTEAROA

Friday, April 16

Highlanders vs. Blues, Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin, 5.05pm [AEST]

Highlanders: Josh Ioane, Ngantungane Punivai, Sio Tomkinson, Scott Gregory, Jona Nareki, Mitch Hunt, Aaron Smith; Kazuki Himeno, Billy Harmon, Shannon Frizell, Josh Dickson, Bryn Evans, Siate Tokolahi, Ash Dixon, Ayden Johnstone.

Replacements: Liam Coltman, Ethan de Groot, Josh Hohneck, Manaaki Selby-Rickit, Marino Mikaele-Tu'u, Kayne Hammington, Michael Collins, James Lentjes

Blues: Stephen Perofeta, Mark Telea, Rieko Ioane, TJ Faiane, Caleb Clarke, Otere Black, Jonathan Ruru; Hoskins Sotutu, Dalton Papalii, Tom Robinson (capt), Sam Darry, Gerard-Cowley-Tuioti, Ofa Tuungafasi, Luteru Tolai, Karl Tu'inukuafe.

Replacements: Leni Apisai, Alex Hodgman, Nepo Laulala, Josh Goodhue, Akira Ioane, Finlay Christie, Harry Plummer, Bryce Heem.

Odds: [tab.com.au] Highlanders $2.40 [+4.5 $1.95], Blues $1.58 [-4.5 $1.85]

Verdict: Refreshed after last week's bye, the Blues are in a position here to really make a statement ahead of next week's rematch with the Crusaders. On paper, they have the superior line-up but this trip south to face a Highlanders team kicking itself for last week's slip-up at home represents a real challenge. Put simply, if the Blues are to be serious challengers to the Crusaders -- even considering the defending champions' slightly indifferent form of the last few weeks -- they really need to put away the Highlanders this week. On the flipside, the Highlanders must win this one to stay alive in the race for the final. It looms as a tight contest with the Blues' firepower out wide perhaps seeing them shade it narrowly. Blues by 5.

Saturday, April 17

Chiefs vs. Crusaders, FMG Stadium, Waikato, Hamilton, 5:05pm [AEST]

Chiefs: Chase Tiatia, Jonah Lowe, Anton Lienert-Brown, Alex Nankivell, Etene Nanai-Seturo, Damian McKenzie, Brad Weber (c); Luke Jacobson, Lachlan Boshier, Mitchell Brown, Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Tupou Vaa'i, Angus Ta'avao, Samisoni Taukei'aho, Aidan Ross.

Replacements: Nathan Harris, Ollie Norris, Sione Mafileo, Pita Gus Sowakula, Kaylum Boshier, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Bryn Gatland, Sean Wainui.

Crusaders: Will Jordan, Sevu Reece, Leicester Fainga'anuku, David Havili, George Bridge, Richie Mo'unga, Mitchell Drummond; Ethan Blackadder, Tom Sanders, Scott Barrett (c), Quinten Strange, Mitchell Dunshea, Michael Alaalatoa, Brodie McAlister, George Bower.

Replacements: Codie Taylor, Isileli Tu'ungafasi, Oli Jager, Luke Romano, Sione Havili Talitui, Bryn Hall, Dallas McLeod, Manasa Mataele.

Odds: [tab.com.au] Chiefs $3 [+6.5 $1.90], Crusaders $1.40 [-6.5 $1.90]

Verdict: The Crusaders have suffered a couple of injury setbacks with Jack Goodhue gone for the year and uncertainty around Joe Moody who has a "soft tissue" injury at the bottom of his big toe. They have then decided to give Codie Taylor a bit of a breather by moving him to the bench and skipper Scott Barrett moves back to the side of the scrum. That is a fair bit of upheaval and will certainly test the team's depth, but luckily that has long been a focus of Scott Robertson's reign. The Chiefs have made a big selection call of their own in moving Damian McKenzie to fly-half; can he have the same impact in traffic in the front line as he so often does in the open spaces at the back? The result of the game could be depend on it, while the Chiefs will also be a far greater threat at the breakdown with Lachlan Boshier back in action at No. 7. This game is a whole lot tougher to call now than earlier in the season. Crusaders by 3.

Bye: Hurricanes