There will be nowhere to hide on Saturday with four bone-rattling derbies lined up as the feast of fierce Super Rugby continues in the second week of the season.
The Highlanders will be keen to find their feet in their fancy new home, and they get to ease into their new surroundings by taking on the most succesful side in the history of the competition.
That will be followed by the clash between the champion Reds and the Western Force - two sides who only had four points betwwen them over their two matches last year.
Finally to cap things off there will be 160 minutes of South African derby action with the Cheetahs squaring up to the Bulls in Bloemfontein and coastal rivals the Stormers and the Sharks doing battle in Cape Town.
Highlanders v Crusaders
(Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin - kick-off: 19.35; 06.35 GMT)
The Highlanders showed plenty of character to overcome their early-season injury issues and clinch an impressive victory over a promising Chiefs team in Hamilton last week.
The team from down south have always shown plenty of heart and commitment under coach Jamie Joseph and there can be few better examples than last week at the Waikato Stadium and last year when they downed the Crusaders in Nelson.
It will be the first game at the new Forsyth Barr Stadium for the Dunedin side but they will be up against a team that have a proven ability to win away from home.
The Crusaders delivered the kind of composed team performance against the Blues last week that has made them the most consistent side in Super Rugby, underlining the fact that they will be competitive in any circumstances.
If their well-drilled pack can create some space for the likes of Robbie Fruean and Israel Dagg out wide then they could put the home side under some serious pressure.
It will be the heart and soul of the Highlanders up against the discipline and skill of the Crusaders which should make for a gripping contest.
2011: Highlanders won 26-18 in Nelson
2011: Crusaders won 44-13 in Dunedin
2010: Crusaders won 32-17 in Christchurch
2009: Highlanders won 6-0 in Dunedin
2008: Highlanders won 26-14 in Christchurch
Prediction: The Highlanders can never be written off, and they will be particularly keen to make a big impression in their new stadium, but the Crusaders have both the pedigree and the arsenal to win tight matches such as this one is likely to be. Crusaders to win by six points.
Crusaders: 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Adam Whitelock, 11 Israel Dagg, 10 Tyler Bleyendaal, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Tom Donnelly, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Quentin MacDonald, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Corey Flynn, 17 Owen Franks, 18 Luke Romano, 19 Luke Whitelock, 20 Willie Heinz, 21 Patrick Osborne, 22 Zac Guildford.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Vinny Munro (New Zealand), Kane Brown (New Zealand) (New Zealand)
TMO: Keith Brown (New Zealand)
Reds v Force
(Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane - kick-off: 19.40; 08.40 GMT)
The defending champions were not very impressive in their opening match against the Waratahs but they tellingly found a way to win - an attribute they showed in their two tight victories over the Force last season.
Ewan Mckenzie's charges turned Suncorp Stadium into something of a fortress last year and they will have an enthusiastic crowd right behind them as they seek to prolong the good times in Brisbane.
McKenzie has made a few interesting positional changes for this match with Ben Tapuai moving from inside to outside centre and Jake Schatz shifting from No.8 to the flank to cover for the injured Scott Higginbotham.
It is the battle of the loose trios which will be the focus in this clash, with Reds tearaway Beau Robinson ready to pit his all-action style against Wallaby openside flank and Force skipper David Pocock.
The Force appear to be a little outgunned in the backline, but they will be hopeful that returning outside centre Pat Dellit will be able to provide some spark on attack, which was missing when they needed it most in their clash with the Brumbies last week.
2011: Reds won 24-21 in Perth
2011: Reds won 21-20 in Brisbane
2010: Reds won 50-10 in Brisbane
2009: Force won 39-7 in Perth
2008: Reds won 29-12 in Brisbane
Prediction: The Reds may not have looked like champion material last week but they won playing badly, and if they click in front of their home crowd the scoreboard could get ugly. The Force will relish their underdog tags and give it a full crack but the Reds will have too much class and should win this one by at least 12 points.
Reds: 15 Luke Morahan, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Jono Lance, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Mike Harris, 9 Will Genia, 8 Radike Samo, 7 Beau Robinson, 6 Jake Schatz, 5 James Horwill (captain), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 James Slipper, 2 Albert Anae, 1 Ben Daley.
Replacements: 16 James Hanson, 17 Greg Holmes, 18 Van Humphries, 19 Liam Gill, 20 Eddie Quirk, 21 Ben Lucas, 22 Rod Davies.
Force: 15 Alfie Mafi, 14 Nick Cummins, 13 Patrick Dellit, 12 Winston Stanley, 11 Napolioni Nalaga, 10 James Stannard, 9 Brett Sheehan, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 David Pocock (captain), 6 Matt Hodgson, 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 Toby Lynn, 3 Salesi Ma'afu, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Ben Whittaker, 17 Kieran Longbottom, 18 Phoenix Battye, 19 Angus Cottrell, 20 Ben Seymour, 21 Rory Sidey, 22 Sam Wara.
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Ian Smith (Australia), Simon Moore (Australia)
TMO: Andrew Lees (Australia)
Cheetahs v Bulls
(Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein - kick-off: 17.05; 15.05 GMT)
Before the season started the Cheetahs targeted a winning start and the ability to close out tight games as key to their campaign, so losing out to the Lions in the last ten minutes last week would have been particularly painful.
The Free State side will be even more desperate to win this weekend as it is both their first home game and the last before they go on tour.
The Cheetahs were punished heavily by the accurate boot of Elton Jantjies last week and they will be wary of suffering the same fate at the hands of metronomic goal-kicker Morne Steyn on Saturday, so discipline will be the watchword for coach Naka Drotske's men.
The Bulls were impressive last week in the way that they managed to squeeze the life out of the Sharks, but they will be keen to show that their high pressure game can get them over the tryline as well.
Both packs will want to stamp their authority on the match, with the Cheetahs especially keen to bounce back from the line-out lesson the Bulls gave them in pre-season, but the key match-ups are likely to come in the backlines.
At flyhalf Springbok incumbent Steyn will be put to the test by young Johan Goosen who many believe is a more rounded player than the Bulls stalwart, while the battle for the high ball between Bjorn Basson and the Cheetahs outside backs could also prove decisive.
2011: Bulls won 32-21 in Pretoria
2011: Bulls won 25-23 in Bloemfontein
2010: Bulls won 51-34 in Bloemfontein
2009: Bulls won 29-20 in Pretoria
2008: Bulls won 60-20 in Bloemfontein
Prediction: This will be another typically intense South African derby, and with both teams likely to keep things fairly conservative at first it should go right down to the wire. The Cheetahs have the players to break the game wide open and will be determined to produce the goods in front of their home crowd but the Bulls' control should see them edge this one by about two points.
Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Rocco Jansen, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Philip Snyman, 11 Willie le Roux, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Tewis de Bruyn, 8 Davon Raubenheimer, 7 Philip van der Walt, 6 Heinrich Brussow, 5 Izak van der Westhuizen, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 WP Nel, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Replacements: 16 Hercu Liebenberg, 17 Lourens Adriaanse, 18 Waltie Vermeulen, 19 Ashley Johnson, 20 Piet van Zyl, 21 Sias Ebersohn, 22 Cameron Jacobs.
Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 Wynand Olivier, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies (captain), 7 Jacques Potgieter, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Juandré Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 CJ Stander, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Louis Fouché, 22 JJ Engelbrecht.
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Marius Jonker (South Africa), Reuben Rossouw (South Africa)
TMO: Johann Meuwesen (South Africa)
Stormers v Sharks
(Newlands, Cape Town - kick-off: 19.10; 17.10 GMT)
The Sharks' pride would have been dented by the way that they were shut out by the Bulls last week and they will come out firing as they look to make a step up in physicality at Newlands on Saturday.
The Stormers might have lost skipper Schalk Burger but they welcome back a Bok in Juan de Jongh whose battle at outside centre with JP Pietersen should be fascinating.
De Jongh is an excellent defender but has tended to go to ground with the ball too often which could contrast with Pietersen who may still be finding his feet in the midfield but showed an encouraging willingness to offload the ball in the tackle last week.
Injury has forced John Plumtree's hand in the midfield and in the loose trio with Meyer Bosman coming in for Tim Whitehead and Keegan Danial moving to the back of the scrum to cover for Ryan Kankowski, but the changes made in the tight five are selection issues.
The Sharks' set-pieces were very disappointing last week and Plumtree has reacted by benching Anton Bresler and the ill-disciplined Jannie du Plessis, so expect a fierce battle up front with a Stormers engine room that seems to have been energised by the massive pair of Steven Kitshoff and Eben Etzebeth.
The Stormers will want to use their superior line-out as a launching pad for the maul that marched the Hurricanes backwards so effectively last week, and with Bryan Habana back on the wing they may even put the ball down the hands in the backline.
With Peter Grant watching from the bench the pressure is on Gary van Aswegen and his duel with Pat Lambie should determine whether he continues to start at flyhalf this season, while another player who will be desperate to make an impression is Siya Kolisi who has to try and fill Burger's boots.
The Sharks looked as if there was no clear plan when they got the opportunity to attack last week and they will need to be far more clinical if they want to breach the Stormers on their home turf.
The Cape side seem a lot more settled, and with a harder edge to their pack this season they will be tough to beat, so the Sharks will have to make a big step up if they are to avoid starting the season with consecutive defeats.
2011: Stormers won 32-12 in Cape Town
2011: Stormers won 16-6 in Durban
2010: Sharks won 20-14 in Durban
2009: Sharks won 20-15 in Cape Town
2008: Sharks won 12-10 in Durban
Prediction: The Sharks have picked a mobile pack that will want to run the home side off their feet to create opportunities for stars like Lambie and Bismarck Du Plessis, while the Stormers are likely to keep it stuctured and should ultimately take this one by more than 10 points.
Stormers: 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Gary van Aswegen, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Nick Koster, 7 Duane Vermeulen, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Siyabonga Ntubeni, 17 Frans Malherbe, 18 De Kock Steenkamp, 19 Nizaam Carr, 20 Louis Schreuder, 21 Peter Grant, 22 Gerhard van den Heever.
Sharks: 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Louis Ludik, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Frederic Michalak, 8 Keegan Daniel (captain), 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Ross Skeate, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Dale Chadwick.
Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Jannie du Plessis, 18 Anton Bresler, 19 Lubabalo Mtembu, 20 Charl McLeod, 21 Marius Joubert, 22 Paul Jordaan.
Referee: Mark Lawrence (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jason Jaftha (South Africa), Christie du Preez (South Africa)
TMO: Gerrie Coetzee (South Africa)
By Michael de Vries
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