Preview: Crusaders v Chiefs
The Crusaders have it all to play for as they host the New Zealand conference leaders at AMI Stadium in Christchurch on Friday.
Currently in fifth place, the Crusaders need a positive result this weekend to book a spot in the qualifiers and another win at home to the Hurricanes next week to be sure of finishing above the Reds in that all-important fourth position, synonymous with a home play-off.
Meanwhile, the defending Super Rugby champions visit Christchurch for the first time since 2009 with their place in the semi-finals practically secured (they need just a single point from their final two fixtures) but with plenty if work still to do if they are to host their knock-out fixtures.
The Chiefs have won three or the last four clashes between these sides, including an 11-point victory in an intense war of attrition back in May.
Both sides have made a handful of changes as the All Blacks return to full action after being used sparingly last week in the wake of the June Test series against France.
Significantly, the Crusaders welcome back captain Kieran Read as well as their first-choice front row combination while the Chiefs have the luxury of giving the likes of Lelia Masaga and Tim Nanai-Williams a break from starting XV duty.
Beyond being a battle for supremacy in the New Zealand conference, clashes between the teams are increasingly dishing up showdowns between individuals. While collectively Chiefs have taken over the mantle as the top Kiwi team, there are number of outstanding head-to-head tussles on offer, where All Blacks berths are also being contested.
Tawera Kerr-Barlow has overtaken Andy Ellis in the scrum-half hierarchy while Matt Todd and Sam Cane are set to compete for the black number seven jersey for many years to come.
There are a number of other sectors were similar rivalries are to be found. The result is that we are almost guaranteed to see another world-class clash on Friday, irrespective of the end result.
Head-to-head: There should be a classic tussle between incumbent All Black fly-half Dan Carter and his international understudy Aaron Cruden. DC was sublime in last week's win over the Highlanders, silencing his critics after a less-than-brilliant display against France. Cruden is growing in stature with every passing week and will be keen to show the master that the apprentice is hot on his heels.
2013: Chiefs won 28-19 in Hamilton
2012: Chiefs won 20-17 in Hamilton
2012: Crusaders won 28-21 in Hamilton
2012: Chiefs won 19-24 in Napier
2011: Crusaders won 25-19in Napier
2011: Crusaders won 34-16 in Tauranga
Prediction: It's always tough to call a clash between New Zealand's top sides but the hosts should have an extra bit of motivation. Crusaders by four points.
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Tom Marshall, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Tom Taylor, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Tom Donnelly, 19 Luke Whitelock, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Tyler Bleyendaal, 22 Telusa Veainu.
Chiefs: 15 Robbie Robinson, 14 Patrick Osborne, 13 Charlie Ngatai, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Matt Vant Leven, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Craig Clarke (c), 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Mahonri Schwalger, 17 Ben Afeaki, 18 Michael Fitzgerald, 19 Tanerau Latimer, 20 Augustine Pulu, 21 Andrew Horrell, 22 Tim Nanai-Williams.
Date: Friday, July 5
Venue: AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Kick-off: 19.35 (07.35 GMT)
Referee: Jonathon White (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand), Kane McBride (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)