New Zealand derby between Hurricanes and Chiefs highlights Super Rugby round nine
We've reached that point in the season where some staying power is required.
Early promise has made way for grim reality and some very one-sided matches loom between now and the end of the campaign. The majority of New Zealand sides remain playoff-bound and while they're involved - particularly in matches among themselves - then the public will retain interest in the competition.
Elsewhere, though, clashes such as the one between the Sunwolves and Jaguares on Saturday might not do a lot for Super Rugby's credibility. That's not to say there won't be any entertainment value just that, if New Zealand viewers have one match in them that night, it's more likely to be the Hurricanes against the Chiefs from Wellington.
That game at the Cake Tin, and an interesting matchup in Canberra, provide round nine's undisputed highlights.
HIGHLANDERS v SHARKS
It's testament to the New Zealand production line that the Highlanders and Hurricanes have carried on quite merrily without last year's star players.
Waisake Naholo for the Highlanders and Nehe Milner-Skudder at the Hurricanes seemed to be playing a game of their own, last season. While everyone else was engaged in the traditional 80-minute grind, that pair appeared part of one long highlight reel.
It wasn't just their football, but their stories too. Naholo, the Fijian who'd had stops in Whanganui, New Plymouth and Auckland and on his way to stardom in Dunedin and Milner-Skudder, who'd tried to crack the Sydney rugby league scene and ended up back in Palmerston North.
The rise of both was meteoric and yet their respective teams have hardly missed a beat without them this year. It's remarkable.
HURRICANES v CHIEFS
Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd reckoned defeat on Saturday wouldn't be "terminal" for either side. He could've gone further and said that a close loss would have no impact whatsoever on the Hurricanes.
The Chiefs are the New Zealand team most folk are talking up this year, with plenty of good judges suggesting players such Damian McKenzie and Charlie Ngatai have already done enough to earn All Blacks selection. The team are top of the table and, when you throw in their title-winning pedigree, it would be a disappointment if they didn't go all the way again this season.
Less is expected of the Hurricanes, who haven't been as convincing than the Chiefs so far this season. Simply competing strongly on Saturday would enhance the Hurricanes' reputation.
BRUMBIES v CRUSADERS
The accepted wisdom is that a sports franchise can't compete on the paddock unless it's administration is right off it. If that's true, then trouble awaits the Brumbies.
An extraordinary general meeting has been called in an attempt to find a permanent solution to the breakdown in relations between the Brumbies' board and chief executive Michael Jones. The ACT Supreme Court has also been involved, thwarting the board's attempts to stand Jones down.
It would be astonishing, and a real endorsement of head coach Stephen Larkham and the team's leadership group, if this doesn't begin to affect on-field performances.
SUNWOLVES v JAGUARES
You hate to see teams really struggle and hope the Sunwolves can enjoy a win or two before the season is out.
Any Asian expansion team was going to find Super Rugby a challenge, from the point of view of travel alone. But the last-minute nature of the Sunwolves' preparation for this season has made things doubly difficult.
The Jaguares have a similarly difficult travel schedule, but at least a good core of their players have already been around the block a bit. Let's hope Saturday's game in Tokyo is a contest.