With the tension growing towards the final of Super Rugby Aotearoa, so does the injury list as the rigorous nature of the comp takes its toll.
The Highlanders will have a short turnaround when they host the Blues on Friday night whilst the Crusaders travel to Waikato to face the Chiefs on Saturday without a pair of All Black stalwarts.
Friday 16 April 5.05pm AEST – Highlanders v Blues at Forsyth Barr Stadium, ad-free, live and on demand on Stan Sport.
In a must-win game for both sides, the Highlanders have been dealt a damaging blow, losing boom rookie Connor Garden-Bachop (wrist) for the rest of the season.
He is joined on the sidelines by lock Pari Pari Parkinson (ankle).
Josh Ioane moves to fullback, with Manaaki Selby-Rickit, Marino Mikaele Tu’u and Michael Collins come onto the bench
As for the Blues, they have made minor changes to the side that defeated the Hurricanes a fortnight ago.
Jonathan Ruru has been promoted to the starting line-up at halfback, with Finlay Christie coming onto the bench whilst Bryce Heem has been selected on the bench in place of AJ Lam.
Back-rower Tom Robinson retains the captaincy as Patrick Tuipulotu continues to recover from a neck injury.
HIGHLANDERS (1-15): Ayden Johnstone, Ash Dixon (co-c), Siate Tokolahi, Bryn Evans, Josh Dickson, Shannon Frizell, Billy Harmon, Kazuki Himeno, Aaron Smith (co-c), Mitch Hunt, Jona Nareki, Scott Gregory, Sio Tomkinson, Ngatungane Punivai, Josh Ioane
Reserves: Liam Coltman, Ethan De Groot, Josh Hohneck, Manaaki Selby-Rickit, Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, Kayne Hammington, Michael Collins, James Lentjes
INs: Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, Michael Collins, Manaaki Selby-Rickit
OUTs: Paripari Parkinson, Hugh Renton, Connor Garden-Bachop
BLUES (1-15): Karl Tu'inukuafe, Luteru Tolai, Ofa Tuungafasi, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Sam Darry, Tom Robinson (c), Dalton Papalii, Hoskins Sotutu, Jonathan Ruru, Otere Black, Caleb Clarke, TJ Faiane, Rieko Ioane, Mark Telea, Stephen Perofeta
Reserves: Leni Apisai, Alex Hodgman, Nepo Laulala, Josh Goodhue, Akira Ioane, Finlay Christie, Harry Plummer, Bryce Heem
INs: Finlay Christie, Bryce Heem
OUTs: Sam Nock, AJ Lam
Saturday 17 April 5.05pm AEST – Chiefs v Crusaders at FMG Stadium Waikato, ad-free, live and on demand on Stan Sport.
Whilst the teams have not been confirmed yet, both teams are set to make changes, with the Chiefs revealing that centre Quinn Tupaea has ruptured his MCL, which will keep him out for the next 6-8 weeks.
Alex Nankivell comes in for Tupaea as Damien McKenzie shifts to fly-half, allowing chase Toatoa to return in place of Kaleb Trask.
All Black Nathan Harris and Bryn Gatland also make their return via the bench
The Crusaders have already confirmed pair Joe Moody and Jack Goodhue will be on the sidelines for an extended period of time.
Moody (toe) will be re-evaluated in two weeks time whilst Goodhue (knee) has been ruled out for the rest of the season as scans confirmed an ACL rupture.
They are joined on the sidelines by Scott Whitelock, Whetukamokamo Douglas and Cullen Grace as Scott Robertson makes a near wholesale change to his forward pack.
Halfback Mitchell Drummond has been elevated to the starting line-up in his 100th game.
CHIEFS (1-15): Aidan Ross, Samisoni Taukei'aho, Angus Ta'avao, Tupou Vaa'i, Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Mitchell Brown, Lachlan Boshier, Luke Jacobson, Brad Weber (c), Damian McKenzie, Etene Nanai-Seturo, Alex Nankivell, Anton Lienert-Brown, Jonah Lowe, Chase Tiatia
Reserves: Nathan Harris, Ollie Norris, Sione Mafileo, Pita Gus Sowakula, Kaylum Boshier, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Bryn Gatland, Sean Wainui
INs: Lachlan Boshier, Sean Wainui, Bryn Gatland, Chase Tiatia, Nathan Harris, Sione Mafileo
OUTs: Samipeni Finau, Quinn Tupaea, Kaleb Trask, Shaun Stevenson, Bradley Slater, Joe Apikotoa
CRUSADERS(1-15): George Bower, Brodie McAlister, Michael Alaalatoa, Mitchell Dunshea, Quinten Strange, Scott Barrett (c), Tom Sanders, Ethan Blackadder, Mitchell Drummond, Richie Mo'unga, George Bridge, David Havili, Leicester Fainga'anuku, Seve Reece, Will Jordan
Reserves: Cody Taylor, Isileli Tu'ungafasi, Oliver Jager, Luke Romano, Sione Havili Talitui, Bryn Hall, Dallas McLeod, Manasa Mataele
INs: Ethan Blackadder, Isileli Tu'ungafasi, Luke Romano, Manasa Mataele, Quinten Strange
OUTs: Joe Moody, Jack Goodhue, Scott Whitelock, Whetukamokamo Douglas, Cullen Grace,
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