The Fijian Drua host the Highlanders in Suva on Saturday in their first match staged in Fiji in the inaugural Super Rugby Pacific.
None of the six matches in round 11 are being played in New Zealand, with five in Australia after last weekend’s Super Round in Melbourne.
Here are the teams and selection talking points for this weekend’s action, which starts in Brisbane when Brad Thorn’s Reds host the Chiefs on Friday night.
* Hall of shame: Seven of the most shocking defeats in New Zealand’s sporting history
* How Andrew Mehrtens survived ‘sleeper hold’ from All Blacks teammate Richard Loe
* Global investment group acquires 25% stake in Hurricanes, aims to grow brand around the world
* All Blacks haka is easily rugby’s most popular video
Reds vs. Chiefs
Friday, 9:45pm (NZ time) at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Co-captain Sam Cane’s unavailability for the Chiefs’ away clash to the Reds means Luke Jacobson will lead the Hamilton-based franchise for the second time this season.
Cane has returned home to New Zealand ahead of the birth of he and his wife’s first child. Fellow co-captain Brad Weber remains sidelined through injury.
The pair are two of 13 unavailable players among the squad, further testing the Chiefs’ depth for the home stretch of the regular season.
A week after All Blacks midfielder Quinn Tupaea shone during his first start on the wing, he has been retained in the No 11 jersey, while Kaylum Boshier and Mitch Brown return to the 23.
Chiefs: Chase Tiatia, Jonah Lowe, Alex Nankivell, Rameka Poihipi, Quinn Tupaea, Bryn Gatland, Cortez Ratima, Pita Gus Sowakula, Kaylum Boshier, Luke Jacobson (c), Tupou Vaa’i, Josh Lord, Angus Ta’avao, Samisoni Taukei’ Ah, Aidan Ross. Reservations: Bradley Slater, Atu Moli, George Dyer, Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Samipeni Finau, Mitch Brown, Xavier Roe, Rivez Reihana.
Reds: Jock Campbell, Suliasi Vunivalu, Hunter Paisami, Hamish Stewart, Josh Flook, Lawson Creighton, Tate McDermott (c), Harry Wilson, Fraser McReight, Angus Scott-Young, Angus Blyth, Ryan Smith, Taniela Tupou, Richie Asiata, Harry Hoopert. Reservations: Matt Faessler, Dane Zander, Feao Fotuaika, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Seru Uru, Kalani Thomas, Filipo Daugunu, Mac Grealy
Strength vs. Blues
Saturday, 00:00am (NZ time) at HBF Park, Perth
All Blacks Caleb Clarke and Akira Ioane make welcome returns for the competition-leading Blues for Friday night’s Super Rugby Pacific clash against the Western Force in Perth.
Clarke has served his three-week suspension for a dangerous aerial challenge against Moana Pasifika and slots back on to the left wing, while Ioane makes his first appearance of the season after pulling up lame with a foot injury ahead of the Blues’ first match.
Leon MacDonald’s side, riding an eight-match win streak, also welcome back the key quintet of skipper Dalton Papalii, top try-scorer and hooker Kurt Eklund, halfback Fin Christie and props Ofa Tuungafasi and Alex Hodgman (for his 50th cap) from rest gold niggles.
Conversely in-form center Rieko Ioane, tighthead prop Nepo Laulala and loose forwards Hoskins Sotutu and Tom Robinson are among those given a spell this week.
The Blues are rolling along at the top of the table, but coming off an unconvincing 35-18 victory over the Fijian Drua in Melbourne last round.
Blues: Zarn Sullivan, AJ Lam, Bryce Heem, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Caleb Clarke, Beauden Barrett, Finlay Christie; Anton Segner, Dalton Papalii (c), Akira Ioane, Sam Darry, Luke Romano, Ofa Tuungafasi, Kurt Eklund, Alex Hodgman. Reservations: Ricky Riccitelli Karl Tu’inukuafe, Marcel Renata, James Tucker, Taufa Funaki, Tanielu Tele’a, Mark Telea.
Strength: Jake Strachan/Jake McIntyre, Toni Pulu, Kyle Godwin, Bayley Kuenzle, Manasa Mataele, Reesjan Pasitoa, Issak Fines-Leleiwasa, Ollie Callan, Kane Koteka, Fergus Lee-Warner, Izack Rodda, Ryan McCauley, Santiago Medrano, Feleti Kaitu’u (c), Tom Robertson. Reservations: Andrew Ready, Bo Abra, Greg Holmes, Jeremy Thrush, Tim Anstee, Alex Masibaka, Ian Prior, Richard Kahui
Fijian Drua vs. Highlanders
Saturday, 4:35pm (NZ time) at ANZ Stadium, Suva
Captain Aaron Smith and No 8 Marino Mikaele-Tu’u make timely returns for the struggling Highlanders as they prepare to face the Drua in hot and humid Suva.
Coach Tony Brown has also handed a first start to bruising Otago flanker Christian Lio-Willie, who impressed off the bench against the Brumbies last weekend.
The revolving door policy in the backline continues, with Marty Banks relegated back to the bench, while wingers Mosese Dawai and Freedom Vahaakolo have been left out of the 23 completely.
All Blacks prop Ethan de Groot is a surprising absence from the starting XV, and he will be asked to provide impact from the bench with Daniel Lienert-Brown handed the No 1 jersey.
Highlanders: Connor Garden-Bachop, Sam Gilbert, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Fetuli Paea, Scott Gregory, Mitch Hunt, Aaron Smith (c), Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, Billy Harmon, Christian Lio-Willie, Sam Caird, Bryn Evans, Jermaine Ainsley, Andrew Makalio, Daniel Lienert-Brown. Reservations: Rhys Marshall, Ethan de Groot, Josh Hohneck, Max Hicks, James Lentjes, Folau Fakatava, Marty Banks, Hugh Renton.
Drua: Kitione Taliga, Selestino Ravutaumada, Apisalome Vota, Kalaveti Ravouvou, Vinaya Habosi, Teti Tela, Frank Lomani, Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta, Vilive Miramira, Meli Derenalagi (c), Ratu Rotuisolia, Isoa Nasilasila, Manasa Saulo, Mesu Dolokoto, Haereiti Hetet. Reservations: Tevita Ikanivere, Meli Tuni, Samu Tawake, Viliame Rarasea, Joseva Tamani, Simeone Kuruvoli, Onisi Ratave, Kitione Ratu.
Waratahs vs. Crusaders
Saturday, 7:05pm (NZ time) at Leichardt Oval, Sydney
The Crusaders have rested All Blacks Ethan Blackadder, Richie Mo’unga, Braydon Ennor and George Bridge for the Waratahs clash, with Fergus Burke handed the No 10 jersey.
David Havili and Will Jordan return to the side, and Havili’s inclusion in the No 12 jersey means that Jack Goodhue pushes out one position to No 13.
Joe Moody’s year-ending ACL injury has opened the door for George Bower to have an extended run in the No 1 jersey, with big Tamaiti Williams his backup on the bench.
There is also a return for Sione Havili Talitui after his long injury absence, while Simon Hickey and Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi will get opportunities off the bench in Sydney.
Crusaders: Will Jordan, Sevu Reece, Jack Goodhue, David Havili, Leicester Fainga’anuku, Fergus Burke, Cullen Grace, Tim Christie, Pablo Matera, Sam Whitelock, Zach Gallagher, Oli Jager, Codie Taylor (c), George Bower. Reservations: Ricky Jackson, Tamaiti Williams, Fletcher Newell, Dominic Gardiner, Sione Havili Talitui, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Simon Hickey, Dallas McLeod.
Waratahs: Alex Newsome, Mark Nawaqanitawase, Izaia Perese, Lalakai Foketi, Dylan Pietsch, Tane Edmed, Jake Gordon, Rahboni Warren-Vosayaco, Michael Hooper, Charlie Gamble, Hugh Sinclair, Jed Holloway, Harry Johnson-Holmes Mahe Vailanu, Angus Bell. Reservations: TBC, Tetera Faulkner, Archer Holz, Geoff Cridge, Will Harris, Jack Grant, Ben Donaldson, James Ramm
Rebels vs. Moana Pasifika
Saturday, 9:45pm (NZ time) at AAMI Park, Melbourne
Moana Pasifika have received a significant boost with the return of experienced captain Sekope Kepu in the No 3 jersey.
Moana Pasifika were cruelly denied the chance to take part in last weekend’s Super Rugby in Melbourne after the Western Force were struck by a Covid-19 outbreak, but the extra week off may have allowed them to freshen up before a game against the Rebels that looks very winnable.
There is also a big change in the backline, with Danny Toala shifting from the No 12 jersey to fullback, allowing the hard-hitting Henry Taefu to partner Levi Aumua in the midfield.
explosive winger Timoci Tavatavanawai is also brought back into the side in the No 11 jersey, while impressive young Otago prop Abraham Pole comes back into the side.
Moana Pasifika: Danny Toala, Tima Fainga’anuku, Levi Aumua, Henry Taefu, Timoci Tavatavanawai, Christian Leali’ifano, Ereatara Enari, Henry Time-Stowers, Alamanda Motuga, Michael Curry, Samuel Slade, Veikoso Poloniati, Sekope Kepu (c), Ray Niuia , Abraham Pole. Reservations: Luteru Tolai, Ezekiel Lindenmuth, Joe ‘Apikotoa, Sione Tu’ipulotu, Solomone Funaki, Jonathan Taumateine, Lincoln McClutchie, Solomone Kata
rebels: Reece Hodge, Andrew Kellaway, Stacey Ili, Ray Nu’u, Glen Vaihu, Carter Gordon, James Tuttle, Michael Wells (c), Richard Hardwick, Brad Wilkin, Rob Leota, Matt Philip, Cabous Eloff, James Hanson, Cameron Orr. Reservations: Efi Ma’afu, Matt Gibbon, Pone Fa’amausili, Josh Hill, Tamati Ioane, Joe Powell, Nick Jooste, George Worth
Brumbies vs. Hurricanes
Sunday, 4pm (NZ time) at GIO Stadium, Canberra
Is the Jordie Barrett-to-midfield story over already? Hurricanes coach has named the big All Black in the No 15 jersey for the second game in a row after midfielders Peter-Umaga Jensen and Bailyn Sullivan impressed in the 30-17 win against the Reds last week.
There are two changes in the backline, however, with Jackson Garden-Bachop taking over at No 10, and Salesi Rayasi injected into the No 11 jersey.
That means Wes Goosen misses out on the 23-man squad, with Billy Proctor providing backline cover from the bench.
Youngster Justin Sangster gets a start at lock, while James O’Reilly makes a welcome return at hooker, where the Hurricanes have been hit hard by injuries and suspension.
Hurricanes: Jordie Barrett, Julian Savea, Bailyn Sullivan, Peter Umaga-Jensen, Salesi Rayasi, Jackson Garden-Bachop, TJ Perenara, Ardie Savea (c), Blake Gibson, TK Howden, Justin Sangster, James Blackwell, Tyrel Lomax, James O’Reilly , Pouri Rakete-Stones. Reservations: Kiana Kereru-Symes, Xavier Numua, Tevita Mafileo, Isaia Walker-Leawere, Caleb Delany, Jamie Booth, Aidan Morgan, Billy Proctor.
Brumbies: Tom Banks, Tom Wright, Len Ikitau, Irae Simone, Andy Muirhead, Noah Lolesio, Nic White (c), Pete Samu, Jahrome Brown, Rob Valetini, Caderyn Neville, Darcy Swain, Sefo Kautai, Lachlan Lonergan, Scott Sio. Reservations: Folau Fainga’a, James Slipper, Tom Ross, Tom Hooper, Luke Reimer, Ryan Lonergan, Hudson Creighton, Ollie Sapsford