Super Rugby continues in New Zealand and Australia this weekend, with a brace of fixtures in both the Aotearoa and AU competitions.
It’s the second round of action in the Land of The Long White Cloud, while we hit the third round of matches Down Under.
The Chiefs make their 2021 entrance on Friday when they meet the Highlanders, ahead of the Waratahs taking on the Western Force.
With the Crusaders playing the Hurricanes on Sunday in a bid to beat Covid-19 lockdowns, the Saturday action belongs entirely to the Brumbies and Rebels.
Super Rugby Aotearoa & AU 2021: Predictions for 5-7 March
Prediction methodology explained: The expected win percentage is based off publicly available odds. For example, if a team?s odds are 2.30, the expected chance of winning is 43%. If the odds are 1.62 the expected chance of winning is 62% and so on. These are accurate at the time of writing but are subject to change. Where there is no value listed, the odds were not available at the time of writing. Score margins use the methodology developed by Rugby Vision.
Note: Brumbies vs Rebels not available at the time of publication, to follow once updated.
Super Rugby Aotearoa: Chiefs vs Highlanders
The Chiefs make their 2021 Super Rugby Aotearoa bow when they host the Highlanders in Waikato on Friday.
Four starting debutants have been named by home coach Clayton McMillan, in the shape of Sione Mafileo, Bryn Gatland, Jonah Lowe and Samipeni Finau.
Xavier Roe is also expected to appear for the first time at scrum-half from the bench, as co-captain Brad Weber starts.
The Highlanders were overpowered by the Crusaders on the opening weekend but coach Tony Brown hasn’t tinkered too much with his starting side for the trip to Hamilton.
Josh Ioane comes in at fly-half as Mitch Hunt shifts to full-back, while Folau Fakatava has Aaron Smith’s boots to fill at scrum-half.
Chiefs Starting XV: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Jonah Lowe, 13 Sean Wainui, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 Etene Nanai-Seturo, 10 Bryn Gatland, 9 Brad Weber (co-captain), 8 Luke Jacobson, 7 Sam Cane (co-captain), 6 Samipeni Finau, 5 Naitoa Ah Kuoi, 4 Tupou Vaa?i, 3 Sione Mafileo, 2 Samisoni Taukei?aho, 1 Reuben O?Neill.
Replacements: 16 Bradley Slater, 17 Ollie Norris, 18 Angus Ta?avao, 19 Mitchell Brown, 20 Mitchell Karpik, 21 Xavier Roe, 22 Alex Nankivell, 23 Shaun Stevenson.
Highlanders Starting XV: 15 Mitch Hunt, 14 Connor Garden-Bachop, 13 Ngatungane Punivai, 12 Patelesio Tomkinson, 11 Jona Nareki, 10 Josh Ioane, 9 Folau Fakatava, 8 Marino Mikaele-Tu?u, 7 Billy Harmon, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Jack Regan, 4 Josh Dickson, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Ash Dixon (co-captain), 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Josh Hohneck, 18 Jeff Thwaites, 19 Manaaki Selby-Rickit, 20 Liam Squire, 21 Aaron Smith (co-captain), 22 Solomon Alaimalo, 23 Hugh Renton.
Super Rugby AU: Waratahs vs Western Force
Super Rugby AU sees a basement battle on Friday with a clash between the New South Wales Waratahs and the Western Force at Bankwest Stadium.
The Waratahs have shipped over 100 points in their opening two fixtures, while the Force were beaten by the Brumbies in their only outing so far.
Coach Rob Penney fights the fire by bringing in three new faces for the home side, with Dave Porecki, Hugh Sinclair and Te Tera Faulkner all expected to bolster the pack.
Penney keeps faith with his backline although Jack Maddocks does switch to the wing with Mark Nawaqanitawase going to full-back.
Toni Pulu’s introduction to the wing for the Force is one of nine squad changes for their first away game of the campaign.
Coach Tim Sampson has shuffled his deck with Tomas Cubelli at scrum-half and ex-Wallabies Sevens man Tim Anstee also coming in for the trip to Sydney.
Waratahs Starting XV: 15 Mark Nawaqanitawase, 14 Jack Maddocks, 13 Alex Newsome (captain), 12 Tepai Moeroa, 11 James Ramm, 10 Will Harrison, 9 Jack Grant, 8 Jack Dempsey, 7 Carlo Tizzano, 6 Lachlan Swinton, 5 Hugh Sinclair, 4 Sam Caird, 3 Harry Johnson-Holmes, 2 David Porecki, 1 Te Tera Faulkner.
Replacements: 16 Tom Horton, 17 Sio Tatola, 18 Chris Talakai, 19 Jack Whetton, 20 Jeremy Williams, 21 Henry Robertson, 22 Tane Edmed, 23 Triston Reilly.
Western Force Starting XV: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Byron Ralston, 13 Tevita Kuridrani. 12 Richard Kahui, 11 Toni Pulu, 10 Jake McIntyre, 9 Tomas Cubelli, 8 Brynard Stander (captain), 7 Kane Koteka, 6 Tom Anstee, 5 Fergus Lee-Warner, 4 Jeremy Trush, 3 Santiago Medrano, 2 Feleti Kaitu?u, 1 Tom Robertson.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Ready, 17 Angus Wagner, 18 Greg Holmes, 19 Ryan McCauley, 20 Tomas Lezana, 21 Ian Prior, 22 Domingo Miotti, 23 Marcel Brache.
Super Rugby AU: Brumbies vs Rebels
It’s a battle between the in-form Brumbies and the Melbourne Rebels in Super Rugby AU on Saturday.
An opening round win over the Western Force was backed up last weekend with a 61-10 humiliation of the Waratahs.
Coach Dan McKellar even has the luxury of bringing in the experience of prop Scott Sio as his only change, while James Tucker is set to make his debut off the bench.
The Rebels are itching for their second game after being edged out by the Queensland Reds in their season opener last weekend in Brisbane.
Four changes have been ordered by South African coach Dave Wessels, with James Hanson returning to the side after over three years away in the English Premiership with Gloucester.
Josh Kemeny will join him in the pack, as will Ross Haylett-Petty on his return from injury.
Brumbies Starting XV: 15 Tom Banks, 14 Andy Muirhead, 13 Len Ikitau, 12 Irae Simone, 11 Mack Hansen, 10 Noah Lolesio, 9 Nic White, 8 Pete Samu, 7 Jahrome Brown, 6 Rob Valetini, 5 Cadeyrn Neville, 4 Darcy Swain, 3 Allan Alaalatoa (captain), 2 Connal McInerney, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Lachlan Lonergan, 17 Harry Lloyd, 18 Tom Ross, 19 James Tucker, 20 Tom Cusack, 21 Ryan Lonergan, 22 Reesjan Pasitoa, 23 Solomone Kata.
Rebels Starting XV: 15 Tom Pincus, 14 Lachlan Anderson, 13 Stacey Ili, 12 Reece Hodge, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Matt To?omua (captain), 9 Joe Powell, 8 Michael Wells, 7 Richard Hardwick, 6 Joshua Kemeny, 5 Trevor Hosea, 4 Ross Haylett-Petty, 3 Pone Faamausili, 2 James Hanson, 1 Cabous Eloff.
Replacements: 16 Ed Craig, 17 Isaac Aedo Kailea, 18 Lucio Sordoni, 19 Steve Cummins, 20 Robert Leota, 21 James Tuttle/Brad Wilkin/Tom Nowlan, 22 Frank Lomani, 23 Glen Vaihu.
Super Rugby Aotearoa: Crusaders vs Hurricanes
The Crusaders and Hurricanes meet on Sunday for a heavy duty Super Rugby Aotearoa match in Christchurch.
It’s a fixture pushed back by 24 hours in a bid to allow fans to beat New Zealand’s latest Covid-19 lockdown.
A hard-fought, 26-13 victory was the reward for the Crusaders’ efforts against the Highlanders on the opening weekend.
The Hurricanes, meanwhile, suffered a hefty defeat in their grudge match at home to the Blues in Wellington.
David Havili and Will Jordan are big boosts for the hosts at the Orangetheory Stadium, as the pair return from injury lay-offs.
Mitchell Drummond swaps in at scrum-half at the expense of Bryn Hall.
Isaia Walker-Leawere, Reed Prinsep and Du?Plessis Kirifi have been called up to start in the Hurricanes’ forward pack.
There’s also a berth at outside centre for Peter Umaga-Jensen.
Crusaders Starting XV: 15 David Havili, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Dallas McLeod, 11 Leicester Fainga?anuku, 10 Richie Mo?unga, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Cullen Grace, 7 Tom Christie, 6 Ethan Blackadder, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Scott Barrett (captain), 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Brodie McAlister, 17 George Bower, 18 Fletcher Newell, 19 Quinten Strange, 20 Sione Havili Talitui, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Fergus Burke, 23 Will Jordan.
Hurricanes Starting XV: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Wes Goosen, 13 Peter Umaga-Jensen, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Jackson Garden-Bachop, 9 Jonathan Taumateine, 8 Ardie Savea (captain), 7 Du?Plessis Kirifi, 6 Reed Prinsep, 5 Isaia Walker-Leawere, 4 James Blackwell, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Asafo Aumua, 1 Fraser Armstrong.
Replacements: 16 Ricky Riccitelli, 17 Xavier Numia, 18 Tevita Mafileo, 19 Liam Mitchell, 20 Devan Flanders, 21 Luke Campbell, 22 Billy Proctor, 23 Salesi Rayasi.