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 (15-1): 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 (15-1): 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 (15-1): 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 (15-1): Ben Donaldson, Mark Nawaqanitawase, Izaia Perese, Lalakai Foketi, Max Jorgensen, Tane Edmed, Jake Gordon (c), Langi Gleeson, Michael Hooper, Lachlan Swinton, Hugh Sinclair, Jed Holloway, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Dave Porecki, Tom Lambert
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
Referee: Nic Berry
Brumbies vs Reds, 7:35pm AEDT
Referee: James Doleman
Force vs Pasifika, 10pm AEDT
Referee: Jordan Way