The Crusaders will be determined to consolidate their position at the top of the table when they host the Waratahs in Christchurch on Saturday.
This encounter pits New Zealand and Australia’s leading sides against each other but the difference in class between these teams is huge, with the Crusaders 13 points ahead of the ‘Tahs on the overall standings. The men from Christchurch have also played a game fewer than the Sydneysiders.
As the defending champions and the competition’s most successful side, the Crusaders are the team everybody wants to beat, but if the Waratahs want to do that they will have to deliver their best performance of the season.
That is easier said than done and a victory for the Waratahs will be a momentous result as they haven’t beaten the eight-time tournament winners on New Zealand soil since a Round One clash in 2004, when they outscored the Crusaders four tries to one in a 43-19 victory.
The Crusaders’ form at home has been superb and they are currently on a remarkable winning streak on their own turf. They have won 19 of their last 20 home games, including their last 13 in a row which is their best run since winning 14 on the bounce from 2009 to 2011.
The champions have also won 13 of their last 15 games against the Waratahs, including eight wins in a row at home to the New South Wales outfit. The only times they were unsuccessful against the Waratahs was the 2014 final and a league match in 2015 and both those games were played in Sydney.
The Waratahs are desperate for victory as a triumph will also be significant in the bigger scheme of things as it will end a 38-match losing streak for Australian teams against sides from New Zealand.
The Sydneysiders boast the best goal-kicking accuracy in the competition and have succeeded with 87 percent of shots at goal. The Crusaders, meanwhile, have impressed on attack, scoring the second most tries (48) in the tournament.
Team news: All Blacks prop Joe Moody has been included in the Crusaders’ starting line-up for this clash. Crusaders head coach Scott Robertson has named an all-new front-row, which features the return of Moody alongside Codie Taylor and Michael Alaalatoa.
Wyatt Crockett and Andrew Makalio take spots on the bench, while Owen Franks has been rested this week and Donald Brighouse has been named to provide tighthead cover.
Scott Barrett will once again partner captain Sam Whitelock in the second-row, while the loose forward trio of Pete Samu, Matt Todd and Jordan Taufua also remains unchanged.
Bryn Hall is the starting scrum-half for this game and, following their successful return from injury in Melbourne, fly-half Richie Mo’unga and centre Jack Goodhue have retained their places in the starting team.
Vice-captain Ryan Crotty has been rested, allowing Tim Bateman to step into the midfield alongside Goodhue. Powerful wing Manasa Mataele joins his uncle, Seta Tamanivalu, in the starting XV to take on the Waratahs, with both players getting the nod on the left and right wings respectively.
George Bridge drops back to full-back for this match, having started on the left wing against the Rebels in Melbourne.
Meanwhile, Waratahs head coach Daryl Gibson has made two changes to his starting XV.
While the forwards remain untouched after their three-try haul in last weekend’s defeat to the Blues, the backs will welcome 112 caps of Super Rugby experience in scrum-half Nick Phipps, whose return to the fold means Jake Gordon will make his impact from the bench.
The inclusion of Curtis Rona into outside centre means Lalakai Foketi moves to the bench. Young prop Shambeckler Vui is in line to make his second appearance in the sky blue, coming in for Waratahs stalwart Paddy Ryan in the number 18 jersey.
2017: Crusaders won 41-22 in Sydney
2016: Crusaders won 29-10 in Christchurch
2015: Waratahs won 32-22 in Sydney
2014: Waratahs won 33-32 in Sydney (Final)
2013: Crusaders won 23-22 in Christchurch
2012: Crusaders won 37-33 in Sydney
2011: Crusaders won 33-18 in Nelson
2010: Crusaders won 20-13 in Christchurch
Crusaders: 15 George Bridge, 14 Seta Tamanivalu, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Tim Bateman, 11 Manasa Mataele, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Jordan Taufua, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Pete Samu, 5 Sam Whitelock (c), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody
Replacements: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Donald Brighouse, 19 Mitchell Dunshea, 20 Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Braydon Ennor
Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Cam Clark, 13 Curtis Rona, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Michael Wells, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Will Miller, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Ned Hanigan, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick, 1 Tom Robertson
Replacements: 16 Hugh Roach, 17 Harry Johnson-Holmes, 18 Shambeckler Vui, 19 Tom Staniforth, 20 Jed Holloway, 21 Jake Gordon, 22 Lalakai Foketi, 23 Bryce Hegarty
Date: Saturday, May 12
Venue: AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Kick-off: 17:15 local (05:15 GMT)
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Jamie Nutbrown (New Zealand), Paul Williams (New Zealand)
Television match official: Aaron Paterson (New Zealand)