1. Game of the week
Chiefs v Crusaders: Hamilton tonight, 7.35pm
Referee: Steve Walsh
TAB: Chiefs $1.85 Crusaders $1.90
Hang on to your hats girls. From an entirely New Zealand point of view, this would make a terrific final. The Crusaders have everything to play for, yet didn't quite show that spirit against the Hurricanes. A couple of points will get the Chiefs a top-two spot, but the number one playoff seeding is their goal. The Crusaders have Israel Dagg, Kieran Read and Dan Carter back and power tighthead Owen Franks gets a rare start - which makes them slight favourites in this particular book even if the TAB disagrees.
Herald betting analyst Michael Guerin searches for weekly gems.
It takes a lot to shock bookmakers but the Crusaders' loss at home last week must have floored them.
Worldwide most markets didn't fully reflect the impact of the loss until at least Tuesday. That was when the Crusaders, long-time favourites for the title lost that position to the Chiefs and Stormers.
Punters and bookies are so used to having the Crusaders favourites that many didn't factor in that even with a win over the Chiefs tonight they could face a nightmare path through Australia and South Africa to even make the final.
That realisation pushed the Crusaders out to $4.50 with some bookmakers, and most now have the Chiefs as $3 or $3.50 favourites for the title. Hard to believe you could have got $21 for the Chiefs to win the title after their first-round loss.
This week's bet is the Reds, facing a must-win against the Highlanders, whose only joy away from home since St Paddy's day has come against the Blues and the Cheetahs.
3. Don't mess with the legend
Richie McCaw has made it clear he wants to retain his All Black openside position and hey presto, he's back there for the Hamilton game now Kieran Read is fit to start at No 8. Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder has been at the forefront of opinion steering McCaw towards the blindside. Yet Blackadder has resisted such a move tonight, dumping the rising Matt Todd to the reserves and soldiering on with the rather ordinary No 6 George Whitelock. May we be so bold as to suggest that McCaw is calling the shots on his career moves for now.
Pat Lam will make what is surely his home ground farewell tomorrow night when the Blues take on the Force, but don't expect any extravagant waving towards the crowd ... if there is a crowd. Despite a rough season, traffic control around Eden Park has remained optimistic throughout, steadfastly putting up the mandatory warning signs before each home game. Two blokes in white coats might suffice tomorrow night. Still, you never know. A win will ensure the Blues triumph in their race against the J'burg Lions not to finish last. But wait, there's more. The right sort of win will see them leap past the Force. So this game is a big deal. Quick, ring another bloke with a white coat.
5. First Michael Harris ...
And now this. Grayson Hart, the former New Zealand World Cup-winning junior who had a handful of games for the Blues, will debut at halfback for the Waratahs against the Brumbies. There's a steadily growing band of players from New Zealand in the Aussie sides. Off the top of the head - new Wallaby Michael Harris, Cooper Vuna, Tom Chamberlain, Toby Lynn and Winston Stanley. The 24-man Western Force squad for tomorrow night's match in Auckland includes New Zealand-born Lynn, Stanley, Pek Cowan, Will Tupou, Tetera Faulkner and Ben Seymour. Another, Jordan Rapana, suffered a season-ending injury during February training.
You can almost hear the hits from here. The Stormers are leading the South African Super 15 charge, but the Sharks and Bulls - who clash in Durban - provided the bulk of Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer's first squad. There will be a real old ding-dong in the forwards, and enough to persuade a few extra New Zealanders out of bed earlier than usual tomorrow morning.