Herald rugby writers Patrick McKendry, Nigel Yalden and Gregor Paul answer three key questions ahead of the Super Rugby semifinals this weekend.
Is the battle between Beauden Barrett and Aaron Cruden the key to the Hurricanes and Chiefs match?
Yes, but within that battle is the one between the halfbacks TJ Perenara and Tawera Kerr-Barlow. Perenara has been consistently excellent and has allowed Barrett to play with freedom. Kerr-Barlow has been in and out of the starting line-up, and hasn't struck up quite the same partnership with Cruden. For that reason, the Hurricanes have an automatic advantage.
Nigel Yalden: No. The platform provided by the collective battle in the contact areas is always more significant than an individual match up; even more so in playoff rugby.
Gregor Paul: It won't be the only key but it will be important. These two are so evenly matched so to find space and exploit opportunity, the right decisions will have to be made and both teams will have to play in the right places. The influence of Sam Cane and Ardie Savea will be important, too.
Will the travel factor finally catch up with the Highlanders when they take on the Lions?
Patrick McKendry: Hard to say with this lot. They looked a bit flat in Canberra last weekend, despite their defensive heroics, but they have the resilience to beat the Lions no matter their tiredness. If they do the final hurdle will be a high one, but they can never be ruled out.
Nigel Yalden: No. These are well conditioned and well managed athletes who have proven systems for dealing with the raft of long distance travel they undertake over the course of this competition.
Gregor Paul: No. The Highlanders have a mindset that dismisses anything being a problem to them playing the way they want.
Who will be the two finalists (and why)?
Patrick McKendry: Hurricanes v Highlanders, a repeat of last year's, because of the Hurricanes home draw through the playoffs and Highlanders' unbelievable esprit de corps.
Nigel Yalden: The Hurricanes form has been irrepressible led by a forward pack that despite injuries in the tight five continues to lay an excellent platform for Perenara and Barrett to operate off; it will be insanely tight but the Canes win it to host the Lions next week, who will play a very tactical game, relying on the boot Elton Jantjies & big defence to help them oust the defending champions in Johannesburg.
Gregor Paul: Highlanders and Chiefs. The Highlanders because they are the team that won't be beaten and the hard ground of Ellis Park will suit them. The Chiefs because...a coin was flipped and that was the outcome.