Queensland Reds have stuck with rookie No. 10 Tom Lynagh ahead of returning veteran James O’Connor for their match against the Brumbies while their hosts have made four changes for the Canberra clash.
After two heavy defeats, the Highlanders’ best player Aaron Smith returns to help ahead of their gigantic task against the Chiefs.
In Melbourne, the Rebels have also got one of their big props back but their opponents, the Waratahs, have two Wallabies forwards returning too.
The Drua also return to Fiji ahead of their first home game against the Crusaders, while Wellington and Canberra prepare to host two big local derbies.
Scroll down for all the latest team news:
Chiefs vs Highlanders, 5:05pm AEDT
Aaron Smith returns at halfback for the Highlanders, but will it matter? The Highlanders have been dealt the hardest start to Super Rugby. After challenging matches against the Blues and Crusaders, Clarke Dermody’s side must head to Waikato to take on the in-form Chiefs.
The match promises to be another challenge for the Highlanders, who have been belted in back to badck matches to start the year.
Dermody has made a tweak to his side, recalling Mitch Hunt at fly-half and shifting for England playmaker Freddie Burns to fullback.
Smith’s return at half-back helps, but it is up front that the Highlanders will be tested against an explosive and intimidating pack.
The Chiefs have no shortage of All Blacks stars, with Samisoni Taukei’aho the in-form hooker of the competition while Brodie Retallick and Tupou Vaa’i offer height and power in the middle.
Pita Gus Sowakula drops back to the bench for Naitoa Ah Kuoi and joins Sam Cane and Luke Jacobson in a well balanced back-row.
Chiefs (1-15): Aidan Ross, Samisoni Taukei’aho, John Ryan, Brodie Retallick, Tupou Vaa’i, Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Sam Cane (c), Luke Jacobson, Brad Weber, Damian McKenzie, Etene Nanai-Seturo, Rameka Poihipi, Alex Nankivell, Emoni Narawa, Shaun Stevenson.
Reserves: Bradley Slater, Ollie Norris, George Dyer, Pita Gus Sowakula, Samipeni Finau, Cortez Ratima, Josh Ioane, Daniel Rona.
Highlanders (1-15): Ethan de Groot, Rhys Marshall, Jermaine Ainsley, Pari-Pari Parkinson, Josh Dickson, Shannon Frizell, James Lentjies (c), Hugh Renton, Aaron Smith, Mitch Hunt, Mosese Dawai, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Josh Timu, Martin Bogado, Freddie Burns.
Reserves: Leni Apisai, Ayden Johnstone, Saula Mau, Fabian Holland, Sean Withy, Kemara Hauiti Parapara, Fetuli Paea, Connor Garden-Bachop.
Referee: Paul Williams
Key facts: The Highlanders have lost 12 straight matches against their New Zealand rivals. Interestingly, the Highlanders have the second slowest ruck speed (3.2 seconds) to start the year while the Chiefs have the second fastest (2.7sec).
Rebels vs Waratahs, 7:35pm AEDT
After their inspired second half against the Hurricanes, Kevin Foote’s Rebels will be eager to convert a narrow defeat into an important win.
The Rebels put in a much-improved 80 minute effort against the Hurricanes, but came unstuck at the death.
But they should have gained some confidence by the team effort, which saw the Rebels’ bench add plenty of impetus to their performance.
Cabous Eloff returns to the starting side for the Rebels in the absence of Sam Talakai.
Otherwise, Foote has named a very settled side with Trevor Hosea starting to make his presence felt after missing last season.
Josh Kemeny has been promoted back to the starting side and joins the in-form Brad Wilkin and Richard Hardwick in the back-row. It’s an unchanged backline.
Their opponents, the Waratahs, have named a settled side from the one that overcame Fiji to win comfortably.
Harry Johnson-Holmes is the only change to the side, with the Wallaby prop returning for Archer Holz, who has been battling a rib injury.
Mahe Vailanu rotates back into the side for Tolu Latu, while Ned Hanigan comes onto the bench ahead of Will Harris.
Hanigan’s return is another sign of the depth being built at the Waratahs, with Harris and Latu not picked.
Rebels (1-15): Matt Gibbon, Alex Mafi, Cabous Eloff, Josh Canham, Trevor Hosea, Josh Kemeny, Brad Wilkin (c), Richard Hardwick, Ryan Louwrens, Carter Gordon, Monty Ioane, Stacey Ili, Reece Hodge, Lachie Anderson, Joe Pincus.
Reserves: Jordan Uelese, Cameron Orr, Pone Fa’amausili, Tuiana Taii Tualima, Vaiolini Ekuasi, James Tuttle, Lukas Ripley, Nick Jooste.
Waratahs (1-15): Tom Lambert, Dave Porecki, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Jed Holloway, Hugh Sinclair, Lachlan Swinton, Michael Hooper, Langi Gleeson, Jake Gordon, Tane Edmed, Max Jorgensen, Lalakai Foketi, Izaia Perese, Mark Nawaqanitawase, Ben Donaldson.
Reserves: Mahe Vailanu, Te Tera Faulkner, Daniel Botha, Taleni Seu, Ned Hanigan, Charlie Gamble, Teddy Wilson, Ben Dowling.
Referee: Angus Gardner
Key fact: The Rebels have won two of their last three home matches against the Waratahs at home. The Rebels’ set-piece is on fire; they have the highest lineout success rate (94%) and are one of two teams along with the Crusaders with a 100% scrum rate.
Drua vs Crusaders, 2:35pm AEDT
Referee: Brendon Pickerill
Hurricanes vs Blues, 5:05pm AEDT
Hurricanes (1-15): Xavier Numia, Dane Coles, Tyrel Lomax, James Blackwell, Isaia Walker-Leawere, Devan Flanders, Du’Plessis Kirifi, Peter Lakai, Cameron Roigard, Brett Cameron, Salesi Rayasi, Jordie Barrett, Billy Proctor, Julian Savea, Josh Moorby.
Reserves: Asafo Aumua, Pouri Rakete-Stones, Pasilio Tosi, Caleb Delany, TK Howden, Jamie Booth, Aidan Morgan, Riley Higgins.
Referee: Nic Berry
Key facts: The Hurricanes’ 32 offloads are four more than any other team in the 2023 Super Rugby Pacific season, with four of those resulting in a break assist –also the joint-most of any team.
The Blues have scored four tries on the back of possession begun with a turnover won this Super Rugby Pacific season, more than any other team in the competition; although, the Hurricanes have conceded only one try via this method.
Brumbies vs Reds, 7:35pm AEDT
Reds coach Brad Thorn named an unchanged XV and only one change in his 23 for the blockbuster clash with the Brumbies after the record-breaking 71-20 win over Western Force.
Connor Vest will make his return to the side via the bench after overcoming a thumb injury.
Thorn said: “We face the Brumbies this week. They’ve started the season strongly with two good wins. They’re one of the form sides in the competition and we know we have a tough game in front of us. We’re looking forward to the contest.”
In contrast, the Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham has made four changes to his starting side, including first starts of the season for Wallabies halves Nic White and Noah Lolesio.
White will lead the team out as captain in place of Allan Alaalatoa, who is missing from the 23, with Rhys Van Nek starting at tighthead prop.
Ollie Sapsford earns a start at inside centre for the first time in Super Rugby having made his run-on debut in last season’s semi final.
Former Australian Sevens flyer Ben O’Donnell earns a place in the Brumbies gameday 23 for the first time and will become Brumby #250 if and when he joins the action.
Larkham said: “We’re pleased with the first two weeks and Saturday represents another chance to build into the season.”
“We’ve rotated quality for quality in a couple of areas and we’re confident this is the right group to perform for us on Saturday night.
“It’s a big game for our organisation, first game as the ACT Brumbies since 2004 at our home ground and we’re tracking for a big crowd so we’re ready to go.”
Brumbies (1-15): James Slipper, Lachlan Lonergan, Rhys Van Nek, Nick Frost, Cadeyrn Neville, Rob Valetini, Rory Scott, Pete Samu, Nic White, Noah Lolesio, Corey Toole, Ollie Sapsford, Len Ikitau, Andy Muirhead, Tom Wright.
Reserves: Connal McInerney, Blake Schoupp, Tom Ross, Darcy Swain, Luke Reimer, Ryan Lonergan, Jack Debreczeni,
Reds (1-15): Dane Zander, Matt Faessler, Zane Nonggorr, Ryan Smith, Seru Uru, Liam Wright, Fraser McReight, Harry Wilson, Tate McDermott, Tom Lynagh, Filipo Daugunu, Hunter Paisami, Josh Flook, Suliasi Vunivalu, Jordan Petaia.
Reserves: Richie Asiata, Sef Fa’agase, Peni Ravai, Connor Vest, Jake Upfield, Kalani Thomas, James O’Connor,
Referee: James Doleman
Key facts: The Reds have won four of their last five Super Rugby games against Brumbies (L1), however, three of those wins have come by margins of just three points or fewer and they lost on their most recent visit to Brumbies’ home ground (12-16 in March 2022). The Brumbies have won 17 of their past 18 home games at GIO Stadium against Australian opposition. The Reds have won seven of their last nine on the road against Aussie opposition.
The Brumbies have a tackle success rate this season of 78 percent – the second highest in the comp after the Chiefs (79 percent).
Force vs Pasifika, 10pm AEDT
Referee: Jordan Way
Key facts: The Force have won their past two SRP games against non-Australian sides – the only time they’ve done better than that was a five game winning streak in 2013 to 2014. Moana have never won in seven attempts away from home. They have scored four or more tries in their last four games.
The teams are equal first for possession rates this season – with 54 percent, although MP have enjoyed four more minutes with the ball than the Force. The Force have made 28 entries into the attacking 22 zone this season – a competition high – and four more than MP.