With the South African conference not seeing any action this week the focus is firmly on the New Zealand and Australian groups. The top four teams in New Zealand face off, while the fifth-placed Blues will look to keep up their good form against Australian sides and go into the international break on a high.

Kicking off the weekend, the Hurricanes travel to Forsyth Barr Stadium having won their last three in a row against the Highlanders – that trio of victories did come at Westpac stadium however, and they will face a tough task ahead if they are to extend that record as the Highlanders boast a formidable record at home.

They've won their last 11 games as hosts and only once – a run of 13 wins from 2000 to 2002 – have they won more in succession at home, while they've won nine of their last 11 when welcoming New Zealand teams to Dunedin.

If the form book is anything to go by this game will certainly be a tight encounter with each of the Highlanders' last eight home games against the Canes being decided by seven points or fewer.

Advertisement

There will be some world class wings on show in this game, with Julian Savea and Waisake Naholo both wearing the #14 shirt, however it is Ben Lam who has been the star of the show this season crossing the try line 14 times, four more than any other player.

However, the Hurricanes winger will still have something to prove in this game as he's yet to score away from home against a fellow Kiwi side in his previous two attempts – will it be third time lucky on Friday?

The Blues will face the Rebels in the first fixture on Saturday, a team they've beaten in four of their previous six encounters, including a 38-point win the last time they met. The Auckland side have won all three of their previous home games against the Rebels, and Tana Umaga will hope his side can maintain their strong home form against the Melbourne outfit and snap a six-game losing streak at home.

The Blues have carried more often than any other side this season, averaging 124 carries per game, with Akira Ioane being one of the most destructive runners this season, beating more defenders than any other player this season. He could meet his match against the Rebels, who boast their own ball-carrying back row in Amanaki Mafi.

The Japan international has carried more often than any other player this season, gaining almost twice as many metres as any other forward and sitting behind only Ioane in terms of defenders beaten. It is a mouth-watering clash and could go a long way to deciding the winner at Eden Park.

The final all-New Zealand affair takes place in Waikato as the Chiefs host the Crusaders who come into this game having won their last three in a row against the Chiefs. Colin Cooper's side have won four of the last five meetings at FMG Stadium Waikato though, including a 24-point victory when they last faced off at the venue in 2015 and it is a stadium the Chiefs are used to winning in, having won 11 in a row there.

The Chiefs will certainly give the Crusaders plenty of ball-in-hand threat to deal with as they currently top the charts for average metres and clean breaks this season. However, they may have to weather a first-half storm from the Crusaders who have crossed for 32 tries in the first 40 minutes of matches in 2018 – more than anyone else this campaign.

The Crusaders will be guided around the park by Richie Mo'unga who has become increasingly pivotal to his side having won 18 of his last 19 Super Rugby games in a Crusaders jersey and was missing for each of their last two defeats in the competition. If the Chiefs can stop him they'll have an excellent chance of extending their impressive form in Waikato and close the gap on the high flying Crusaders.

Advertisement