1. Game of the week
Chiefs v Hurricanes
Hamilton, tomorrow, 7.35pm
Referee: Jonathon White
TAB: Chiefs $1.47, Hurricanes $2.55
This shapes as a potential thrill-a-thon between two teams that have gone about rebuilding in similar ways, with slightly different results.
While Mark Hammett detonated a very public bomb under the Hurricanes last season, Dave Rennie's cull at the Chiefs, who were still then coached by Ian Foster, was no less damaging to the psyches of those told they were no longer required.
It's generally accepted they were both on the right track, though Hammett's Hurricanes were made to look a bit B-grade by the Crusaders on their own back yard last week. This week they'll be more dangerous with Cory Jane and Julian Savea back in action.
The last thing they need is a sudden collapse, a la the similarly rebuilt 2011 Highlanders, because the doubting Thomases will raise their heads again.
The Chiefs have no such concerns, but they've made a big point of saying respect is hard-earned and easily lost.
A reverse against the Hurricanes on their own patch might not immediately erode the new-found respect, but it will damage their confidence.
2. First-time caller
Unadulterated talkback-like opinion
"Tahs v Crusaders, can't wait. Sunday afternoon footy - marvellous. Should be a weekly occurrence.
Give me a good reason why not? Where's the rule that says we have to watch league on Sundays?
Nothing against league, just prefer the 15-man stuff. Surely it's my God-given right as a New Zealander to watch rugby of the union variety all weekend. More please."
3. Stat attack
The Stormers are rightly lauded for their defence, so we need to acknowledge now that what the Chiefs are doing on the wrong side of the ball is stunning. Just eight tries conceded in the competition, one per game, even better than the Stormers (if only by one). Next best on the stingy rota is the Highlanders, with 12.
The Chiefs have scored 21 tries, not an amazing ratio, but only the Hurricanes and Bulls - both 28 - have more.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is that the Crusaders have not been particularly prolific (18), or watertight (16 conceded), yet they look poised to make their move.
4. Money ball
Herald betting analyst Michael Guerin searches for weekly gems.
You know you are having a bad season when your coach goes out and finds his own replacement and you have more 1st fives than wins.
But now the defending champion Reds have suffered the ultimate indignity - an army of punters are backing the confused Blues to beat them tonight.
The Blues have been sensationally backed from $1.65 to $1.45 to win the battle of this season's disappointers, and that is even without Tony Woodcock.
The Blues have improved and should be favourites at home but the $1.45 is silly money compared with the bet of the week, the $1.82 for the Hurricanes to get within seven points of the Chiefs. With Perenara and Jane back and the Chiefs having returned from South Africa, this could be a close one, as most NZ derbies are.
Those looking for a little extra should take that bet doubled into the Crusaders to beat the Waratahs at $1.35, which is like finding money in the street.
5. The mighty fallen
It is easy to forget that tonight's eagerly unanticipated clash between the primary colours - Blues and Reds - is a replay of last year's semifinal. The chances of them meeting at that same stage again this year? Probably a little less than zero.
6. Say what
"@TheRealWaldrom - no, it was me and have never heard or seen it like that, apologies, thought it meant head high or 'nut'. Ok?"
Apologising the modern way. Bobby Skinstad lets Scott Waldrom know via Twitter that he had no idea a "coconut tackle" reference to Lelia Masaga could be construed as derogatory.