The countdown to finals is on with Super Rugby AU entering their final round while across the ditch the penultimate round looms.
In Australia the Force play for their maiden finals appearance, while the Waratahs host the Rebels in what is the NSW's last chance to win a Super Rugby AU match in 2021.
It's not as simple in New Zealand with the Chiefs, Blues and Highlanders all within one point of each other and hunting for a finals spot. With the Highlanders sitting out with a bye this weekend, the Chiefs and Blues will be desperate to use the opportunity to build a gap on the table.
Read on as we bring you the latest line-ups, team news, odds and analysis for all four fixtures this weekend.
SUPER RUGBY AU
Friday, April 23
Force: Rob Kearney, Toni Pulu, Tevita Kuridrani, Kyle Godwin, Jordan Olowofela, Domingo Miotti, Tomas Cubelli; Brynard Stander, Kane Koteka, Tim Anstee, Sitaleki Timani, Jeremy Thrush, Greg Holmes, Feleti Kaitu'u, Tom Robertson.
Replacements: Andrew Ready, Angus Wagner, Santiago Medrano, Ryan McCauley, Fergus Lee-Warner, Ian Prior, Richard Kahui, Jack McGregor
Reds: Bryce Hegarty, Jordan Petaia, Hunter Paisami, Hamish Stewart, Filipo Daugunu, James O'Connor, Tate McDermott; Harry Wilson, Fraser McReight, Liam Wright, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Angus Scott-Young, Taniela Tupou, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Feao Fotuaika.
Replacements: Alex Mafi, Richie Asiata, Zane Nonggorr, Ryan Smith, Seru Uru, Kalani Thomas, Josh Flook, Ilaisa Droasese.
Odds [tab.com.au]: Force $3.50 [+8.5 $1.90]; Reds $1.30 [-8.5 $1.90]
Verdict: The mission is simple for the Force this week: Win and you're in. But that will be easier said than done against a Reds side that is still to taste defeat in Super Rugby AU this season, and that has also welcome skipper Liam Wright and in-form centre Hunter Paisami back into the starting line-up. There's no question that the Force will have to find a different level to beat the Reds; they were a tad fortunate to sneak past the Waratahs last week. But if they show the same grit as they did in Brisbane earlier this year they should at least be in the contest. Still, the Reds are playing with too much confidence and scrum dominance, in particular, is allowing them to flex their attacking muscle elsewhere across the paddock. They'll want to head into the pre-final rest, and then the decider, off a win, too. Reds by 12.
Saturday, April 24
Waratahs: Jack Maddocks, Alex Newsome, Izaia Perese, Lalakai Foketi, James Ramm, Ben Donaldson, Jake Gordon; Will Harris; Carlo Tizzano; Lachie Swinton, Max Douglas, Hugh Sinclair, Harry Johnson-Holmes, David Porecki, Angus Bell.
Replacements: Joe Cotton, Te Tera Faulkner, Darcy Breen, Michael Wood, Jeremy Williams, Charlie Gamble, Jack Grant, Tane Edmed.
Rebels: Tom Pincus, Frank Lomani, Stacey Ili, Campbell Magnay, Marika Koroibete, Matt To'omua, Joe Powell; Isi Naisarani, Brad Wilkin, Michael Wells, Ross Haylett-Petty, Robert Leota, Cabous Eloff, Jordan Uelese, Cameron Orr.
Replacements: James Hanson, Matt Gibbon, Pone Fa'aumasili, Steve Cummins, Richard Hardwick, Josh Kemeny, Carter Gordon, George Worth.
Odds [tab.com.au]: Waratahs $3.25 [+7.5 $1.85]; Rebels [-7.5 $1.35]
Verdict: The Rebels will know exactly where they stand in terms of the semifinal long before they run out on Saturday night. They'll be sweating on a Reds victory, which then gives them the opportunity to advance with a win over the Waratahs. But that task looks decidely tougher than it did a fortnight ago with NSW showing genuine signs of improvement under interim coaches Jason Gilmore and Chris Whitaker. They really should have beaten the Force last week and while the defeat will have stung a young playing group desperate for some success, they will have soon absorbed a swathe of confidence from the one-point defeat. The Rebels have been hit by the loss of Trevor Hosea but have regained Isi Naisarani in the run-on side while there is some doubt hanging over the head of Tahs No. 10 Ben Donaldson, who was arguably their best player last week. This match just screams late drama but the $3.25 price on offer for NSW seems like overs. Waratahs by 2.
Ep 3 of ESPN Scrum Reset is in! This week @HulaBulaJim joins @ChristypDoran & @Sambruce86 to review Reds-Brums classic, look at some @wallabies selections & give an update on France's visit Down Under https://t.co/cPfPrpNxU7— ESPN Scrum (@espnscrum) March 17, 2021
SUPER RUGBY AOTEAROA
Friday, April 23
Chiefs vs. Hurricanes, FMG Stadium Waikato, Hamilton, 5.05pm [AEST]
Chiefs: Damian McKenzie, Jonah Lowe, Anton Lienert-Brown, Alex Nankivell, Etene Nanai-Seturo, Bryn Gatland, Brad Weber; Pita Gus Sowakula, 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, Samipeni Finau, Kaylum Boshier, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Rameka Poihipi, Chase Tiatia.
Hurricanes: Jordie Barrett, Wes Goosen, Peter Umaga-Jensen, Ngani Laumape, Salesi Rayasi, Ruben Love, Luke Campbell; Devan Flanders, Du'Plessis Kirifi, Reed Prinsep, Scott Scrafton, James Blackwell. Tyrel Lomax, Dane Coles, Xavier Numia
Replacements: Asafo Aumua, Pouri Rakere-Stones, Alex Fidow, Isaia Walker-Leawere, Vaea Fifitia, Brauden Iose, Cam Roigard, Billy Proctor
Odds: [tab.com.au] Chiefs $1.45 [-6.5 $1.95]; Hurricanes $2.75 [+6.5 $1.85]
Verdict: Last week's win over the Crusaders marked four straight wins for the Chiefs and they are now the form team of Super Rugby Aotearoa. There were more heroics from Damian McKenzie against the defending champions as he kicked a late penalty to secure the win, just as he had a week earlier; he also scored a try to see them past the Blues. McKenzie shifts back to fullback this week with Bryn Gatland getting the nod at No. 10 while the Hurricanes are still looking for a commanding presence in the halves. Coming off the by, the visitors should be fresh but they are down on star power through the absence of skipper Ardie Savea. The Chiefs' run will extend to five wins. Chiefs by 7.
Sunday, April 25
Crusaders vs. Blues, Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch, 1:35pm [AEST]
Crusaders: Will Jordan, Sevu Reece, Leicester Fainga'anuku, David Havili, George Bridge, Richie Mo'unga, Mitchell Drummond; Cullen Grace, Sione Havili Talitui, Ethan Blackadder, Sam Whitelock, Michael Alaalatoa, Codie Taylor, George Bower.
Replacements: Brodie McAlister, Tamaiti Williams, Oliver Jager, Mitchell Dunshea, Tom Sanders, Bryn Hall, Dallas McLeod, Manasa Mataele.
Blues: Stephen Perofeta, Mark Telea, Rieko Ioane, Tanielu Tele'a, Harry Plummer, Jonathan Ruru; Hoskins Sotutu, Dalton Papali'i, Blake Gibson, Sam Darry, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Nepu Laulala, Kurt Eklund, Karl Tu'inukuafe.
Replacements: Soane Vikena, Marcel Renata, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Taine Plumtree, Akira Ioane, Finlay Christie, Otere Black, AJ Lam.
Odds: [tab.com.au] Crusaders $1.45 [-6.5 $1.90]; Blues $2.75 [+6.5 $1.90]
Verdict: A big crowd is expected on Sunday afternoon at Orangetheory Stadium as the Crusaders chase a bounce-back win against the Blues. They were only pipped late by the Chiefs last week, but aren't quite playing at the same level they have over the past few years. The counterattacking threat and set-piece remain huge weapons, though, and the Blues will need to be mindful of their discipline this time around after it hurt them badly in the corresponding clash earlier in the year. With the bye to come in the final round, the Crusaders really need to wrestle back some momentum and they should do it on Sunday. Crusaders by 10.