We've hit the penultimate round of Super Rugby Pacific, with key games to be played on both sides of the Tasman this weekend.
The pick of those is clearly the top-two clash between the Blues and Brumbies in Canberra, the hosts looking to avoid back-to-back losses while also attempting to end the Kiwis' run of 11 straight victories.
Stay across all the line-ups, team news and odds for Round 14 as they come to hand below.
Friday, May 20
Crusaders: Chay Fihaki, Sevu Reece, Braydon Ennor, Jack Goodhue, Leicester Fainga'anuku, Fergus Burke, Bryn Hall; Ethan Blackadder, Tom Christie, Scott Barrett, Sam Whitelock, Zach Gallagher, Fletcher Newell, Ricky Jackson, Finlay Brewis. Replacements: Shilo Klein, Tamaiti Williams, Oli Jager, Dominic Gardiner, Corey Kellow, Mitch Drummond, Simon Hickey, George Bridge.
Drua: Kitione Taliga, Selestino Ravutaumada, Kalaveti Ravouvou, Teti Tela, Vinaya Habosi, Caleb Muntz, Peni Matawalu; Nemani Nagusa (c), Mesulame Dolokoto, Joseva Tamani, Ratu Rotuisolia, Isoa Nasilasila, Samuela Tawake, Zuriel Togiatama, Kaliopasi Uluilakepa. Replacements: Tevita Ikanivere, Haereiti Hetet, Manasa Saulo, Chris Minimbi, Raikabula Momoedonu, Leone Nawai, Ilaisa Droasese, Tuidraki Samusamuvodre.
Odds [tab.com.au]: Crusaders $1.01, -29.5 $1.85; Drua $21, +29.5 $1.90 [odds correct as of 1pm 18/5]
Verdict: They may have been struggling for that classic Crusaders rhythm earlier in the year, but the past two weeks have shown that the competition heavyweights seem to be peaking at the right time. Having romped away from the Force in the second half in Perth, the Crusaders punished the Brumbies' errors with the ruthless streak we have come to expect from them ensuring they remain in the hunt for a top-two finish. With the Reds to come in Christchurch next week, coach Scott Robertson has taken the opportunity to freshen up his troops following their four-week stint in Australia, with Richie Mo'unga, Will Jordan and Pablo Matera all given a spell, while Codie Taylor also misses through a rib injury that won't keep him out beyond this week. The Crusaders still have more than enough quality to see off the Drua, who are coming off just their second week of the season last week. While this shouldn't get as ugly as the Drua's last trip to New Zealand -- their 62-point drubbing by the Hurricanes -- this looks like being another long night for the Fijians. Crusaders by 33.
Reds: Jock Campbell, Suliasi Vunivalu, Josh Flook, Hamish Stewart, Jordan Petaia, James O'Connor, Tate McDermott; Harry Wilson, Fraser McReight, Sevu Uru, Angus Blyth, Ryan Smith, Feao Fotuaika, Matt Faessler, Harry Hoopert. Replacements: Richie Asiata, Dane Zander, Sef Fa'agase, Connor Vest, Angus Scott-Young, Kalani Thomas, Lawson Creighton, Filipo Daugunu.
Pasifika: William Havili, Tomasi Alosio, Solomone Kata, Danny Toala, Timoci Tavatavanawai, Christian Leali'ifano, Jonathan Taumateine; Henry Time-Stowers, Solomone Funaki, Sione Tu'ipulotu, Samuel Slade, Michael Curry, Sekope Kepu, Ray Niuia, Abraham Pole. Replacements: Luteru Tolai, Ezekiel Lindenmuth, Joe Apikotoa, Alex McRobbie, Jack Lam, Ereatara Enari, Lincoln McClutchie, Henry Taefu.
Odds: [tab.com.au] Reds $1.09, -17.5 $1.90; Pasifika $9, +23.5 $1.87 [odds correct as of 1pm 18/5]
Verdict: A fourth straight defeat has completely sucked the life out of the Reds' season, their wretched run with injury only partly to blame for what has been a significant dip in form. Brad Thorn's side at least had their moments last week against the Blues, but a slow start to the second half killed whatever remote chance they had of running up an upset at Eden Park. But having regained James O'Connor last week, the Reds will also welcome back Harry Wilson and Fraser McReight for the visit of Moana Pasifika, whom the Reds should have little trouble accounting for. There is also some relief at hooker, too, with Richie Asiata back on the bench while Matt Faessler gets the start. Pasifika, meanwhile, had their chance against the Drua last week but were let down by some poor defence. They are capable of hanging with the Reds if they play up to their potential, but you get the feeling the long season -- their first in Super Rugby -- is starting to take its toll. Reds by 25.
Saturday, May 21
Chiefs: Kaleb Trask, Emoni Narawa, Alex Nankivell, Quinn Tupaea, Chase Tiatia, Bryn Gatland, Brad Weber (co-c); Luke Jacobson, Sam Cane (co-c), Pita Gus Sowakula, Tupou Vaa'i, Josh Lord, Angus Ta'avao, Bradley Slater, Aidan Ross. Replacements: Samisoni Taukei'aho, Josh Bartlett, George Dyer, Samipeni Finau, Mitch Brown, Kaylum Boshier, Xavier Roe, Rameka Poihipi.
Force: Jake Strachan, Byron Ralston, Kyle Godwin, Reesjan Pasitoa, Toni Pulu, Jake McIntyre, Ian Prior; Jackson Pugh, Tim Anstee, Fergus Lee-Warner, Izack Rodda, Ryan McCauley, Santiago Medrano, Feleti Kaitu'u (c), Tom Robertson. Replacements: Andrew Ready, Angus Wagner, Bo Abra, Jeremy Thrush, Will Sankey, Michael McDonald, Richard Kahui, Brad Lacey.
Odds: [tab.com.au] Chiefs $1.04, -23.5 $1.87; Force $9 +23.5 $1.87 [odds correct as of 1pm 18/5]
Verdict: It took until the 80th minute for the Chiefs to see off the Rebels last week, ensuring they remain in the box seat for a fourth-place finish on the ladder and a home final. While relieved to get the win last week, coach Clayton McMillan says his side is in need of an injection of energy, a problem which has been further amplified by a second COVID wave which is sweeping through the club this week. Still, the Chiefs have been able to put up a quality side that is choc full of All Blacks talent, including the returning Tupou Vaa'i. The Force, meanwhile, have the look of a team limping towards the end of the season. Last week's loss to the Highlanders simply wasn't up to Super Rugby standard and this trip to Hamilton appears likely to end in a similar result. The Force also have to play a catch-up game with Moana Pasifika on Tuesday, which is going to take every playing resource the team has got. Picking them up after what could be a heavy defeat on Saturday will be tough. Chiefs by 25.
Hurricanes: Ruben Love, Julian Savea, Billy Proctor, Jordie Barrett, Salesi Rayasi, Aidan Morgan, TJ Perenara; TK Howden, Du'Plessis Kirifi, Blake Gibson, Isaia Walker-Leawere, James Blackwell, Tyrel Lomax, Dane Coles, Tevita Mafileo. Replacements: Asafo Aumua, Pouri Rakete-Stones, Owen Franks, Scott Scrafton, Caleb Delany, Jamie Booth, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Wes Goosen.
Rebels: Reece Hodge, George Worth, Andrew Kellaway, Matt To'omua, Glen Vaihu, Carter Gordon, James Tuttle; Tamati Ioane, Brad Wilkin, Michael Wells (c), Rob Leota, Matt Philip, Pone Fa'amausili, Jordan Uelese, Matt Gibbon. Replacements: James Hanson, Cameron Orr, Cabous Eloff, Josh Canham, Richard Hardwick, Joe Powell, Lukas Ripley, Nick Jooste.
Odds: [tab.com.au] Hurricanes $1.06 -18.5, $1.95; Rebels $8, +18.5 $1.90 [odds correct as of 1pm 18/5]
Verdict: Could the Hurricanes be the darkhorse for the Super Rugby Pacific playoffs? They perhaps lack the consistency or set-piece dominance that will be needed in the post-season, but you must admire their fighting spirit after they came from 15-0 down to overhaul the Waratahs last week. Skipper Ardie Savea was heroic in that match and gets a well-earned break for the visit of the Rebels as a result, while the Jordie Barrett experiment at No. 12 continues, surely with the encouragement of the All Blacks selectors. Meanwhile in Melbourne, Rebels fans must still be wondering how their team managed to blow what should have been a match-winning advantage late against the Chiefs, a lack of experience in the closing stages as much to blame as anything. That should hopefully be offset by the return of Matt To'omua, although the Wallabies veteran slots back in at No. 12 with Carter Gordon starting to find his feet after a difficult start to the season earlier in the year. There is no doubt the Rebels are an improving outfit, but they still have genuine question marks over their defence, which was reflected in the four missed tackles that conceded the match-winning try last week. Kevin Foote's side can make a game of this, but the Hurricanes should still be far too strong at home -- even without Ardie Savea. Hurricanes by 20.
Brumbies: Tom Banks, Tom Wright, Len Ikitau, Irae Simone, Andy Muirhead, Noah Lolesio, Nic White; Pete Samu, Luke Reimer, Tom Hooper, Caderyn Neville, Darcy Swain, Allan Alaalatoa (c), Folau Fainga'a, James Slipper. Replacements: Billy Pollard, Scott Sio, Sefo Kautai, Nick Frost, Rory Scott, Ryan Lonergan, Hudson Creighton, Ollie Sapsford.
Blues: Stephen Perofeta, Mark Telea Bryce Heem, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Caleb Clarke, Beauden Barrett, Finlay Christie; Hoskins Sotutu, Dalton Papalii (c), Anton Segner, Sam Darry, James Tucker, Ofa Tuungafasi, Kurt Eklund, Alex Hodgman. Replacements: Ricky Riccitelli, Karl Tu'inukuafe, Nepo Laulala, Luke Romano, Adrian Choat, Sam Nock, Tanielu Tele'a, Zarn Sullivan.
Odds: [tab.com.au] Brumbies $3.20, +7.5 $1.87; Blues $1.32, -7.5 $1.87 [odds correct as of 1pm 18/5]
Verdict: The clear game of the weekend, and one the Brumbies must win you'd think if they are to hold onto their place in the top. The absence of Rob Valetini and Noah Lolesio against the Crusaders last week was telling, with Rod Iona struggling at No. 10. But the Brumbies just made too many mistakes on the whole; Tom Wright's hot-stepping try a rare highlight on a night when they were always playing catch-up rugby -- something you absolutely don't want to be doing against the Crusaders. Lolesio returns this week, meaning the Brumbies are almost at full strength apart from the absence of Valetini and back-row counterpart Jahrome Brown. The Blues, meanwhile, underlined their title credentials with another hammering of an Australian outfit, the Reds, at home last week. They have such incredible firepower in their backline, evidenced by Bryce Heem's two-try performance off the bench while the pack is laden with All Blacks quality, even without Akira Ioane who misses this week alongside brother Rieko; the Blues have also won four of the last five between the two teams. If the Brumbies can rediscover their form from their win over the Chiefs a fortnight ago, and really put the squeeze on the Blues with their driving maul, they might sneak this one. But it is going to take a significant step up from last week. Brumbies by 3.
Sunday, May 22
Highlanders: Connor Garden Bachop, Denny Solomona, Josh Timu, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Scott Gregory, Sam Gilbert, Aaron Smith (cc), Marino Mikaele-Tu'u, Billy Harmon, Billy Harmon, James Lentjes (cc), Josh Dickson*, Sam Caird, Jermaine Ainsley, Liam Coltman, Daniel Lienert-Brown. Replacements: Andrew Makalio, Luca Inch**, Saula Mau, Max Hicks, Hugh Renton, Folau Fakatava, Marty Banks, Fetuli Paea
Waratahs: Ben Donaldson, Mark Nawaqanitawase, Alex Newsome, Lalakai Foketi, Dylan Pietsch, Tane Edmed, Jake Gordon; Will Harris, Michael Hooper, Langi Gleeson, Hugh Sinclair, Geoff Cridge, Archer Holz, Dave Porecki, Tetera Faulkner. Replacements: Mahe Vailanu, Angus Bell, Paddy Ryan, Jeremy Williams, Ned Hanigan, Rahboni Warren-Vosayaco, Jack Grant, Jamie Roberts.
Odds: [tab.com.au] Highlanders $1.30 -9.5 $1.87; Waratahs $3.30, +9.5 $1.87 [odds correct as of 1pm 18/5]
Verdict: The Highlanders continued their late-season surge by putting the Force to the sword last week, but will recognise this is significant step up against a Waratahs team still smarting from last week's second-half meltdown against the Hurricanes. Up 15-0, there could be no excuses for NSW, with coach Darren Coleman simply admitting that when the Kiwis went up a gear, the Waratahs just "couldn't go with them". That is a concern ahead of this clash in Dunedin, where the Highlanders go up a gear, and where NSW last year again conceded in excess of 50 points. While Coleman has taken the opportunity to freshen up his troops, and has lost Izaia Perese to injury, the Waratahs have one huge in which comes in the form of Michael Hooper. Had the Wallabies skipper been out on the paddock last week, the Waratahs may well have avoided several of the brain-fades that haunted them at Leichhardt Oval. There is no Ethan de Groot for the Highlanders, which could have an influence at scrum time, but you get the feeling the Highlanders can ride their recent momentum to a narrow win. Highlanders by 7.