Watching the Waiktao Chiefs and the Canterbury Crusaders both work their way to wins last weekend against the ACT Brumbies and Otago Highlanders respectively, only set up this weekend's bomb of a fixture this weekend.
The Chiefs take on the Crusaders this weekend and the stage is beautifully set as the Chiefs put their grind-to-win ability on full display against the Brumbies, while the Crusaders did much the same against the Highlanders. The Crusaders toiled away against the Highlanders before showing off their superior fitness and class against a side who spent week one chilling.
There's juicy match ups all over the park with both forward packs being equal parts skill and ruthlessness which is what we love to see. For me, Aaron Cruden vs Colin Slade will be one to keep tabs on as not only will their efforts heavily influence the game but we'll either see why Cruden's ranked as our best 1st five or we'll see that we have more depth than we really need at 1st 5.
I liked Slade against the Highlanders and with Dan Carter being the old man he now is, Slade can enjoy some time in the 10 jersey.
Trying to contain Sonny Bill Williams will be difficult, as is usually the case but if the Crusaders can adopt a similar mentality up front to their fallen comrade Owen Franks, they'll go some way to frustrating the Chiefs.
Franks won't be there to serve up some niggle against the Chiefs, but you'd expect the Crusaders to limit the chances of Cruden and SBW with plenty of ruckus in the ruck. This game will be awesome because it'd be rude for the Chiefs to not fight fire with fire and they've got the personnel, especially with Sam Cane in the side to not only make each ruck a small war but also effectively slow things down.
Apparently there's other games of rugby as well ... the Blues lost again, sweet.
Unlike the Hurricanes who have emerged from South Africa with a few wins, the Blues are battling away looking for a winning combination. They were beaten by the Stormers last week and this week they take on the Cheetahs which could end up with another loss but we'll get to see a young, but exciting group in action.
The back three of Lolagi Visnia, Melani Nanai and Tevita Li just makes me happy. That means that Charles Piutau gets a chance to showcase his running ability in the midfield but if the Blues continue to be pretty shit, at least we'll have visions of the future ... right?
The Hurricanes will stop off in Perth before returning to Aotearoa and with no Conrad Smith, Dane Coles gets to skipper the Wellingtonians. Nice work Dane.
What's much more exciting is Ray Lee Lo partnering Ma'a Nonu in the midfield, which won't be the norm as Smith will return but they're both lively ball runners and that double whammy will be good to watch. Not to mention Ardie Savea getting a run in the 7 jersey, there's many a young loose forward emerging on the scene and Savea needs to continue to impress to stay ahead of the pack.
The Force are coming off a loss to the Queensland Reds last week (after beating up the Waratahs) and we don't really know where they stand at the moment. Should the Hurricanes continue their nice run of form, you'd expect the Force to be unable to match them but with a few changes, the Hurricanes could also struggle.
I like all this rest and rotation, which will make all you old man rugby types cringe but that's exactly what it is and it puts the teams with a better culture and coaching staff on a pedastool. We all know that we've got plenty of depth, but the ability of coaches to juggle the changes and maintain a solid line up is equally as funky.
This weekend's round will be kicked off by the Highlanders taking on the Queensland Reds and after seeing the Zoo last week, I'd imagine that they're going to have a whole lot of fun at the Reds' expense.
Both the Waratahs and Reds got back on the ship last week after opening round losses and with the Waratahs playing that Bye guy, the Reds will be the focus of Australia's attention ... for Friday night anyway as the Brumbies take on the Melbourne Rebels. The Reds will take on the Highlanders who looked a step behind against the Crusaders but that's understandable, but we'll get a good gauge of the Highlanders' ability against a solid group of Queenslanders.
With no Lima Sopoaga this week, the Highlanders have true blue Marty Banks to play at 10 and I'm eager to see how he goes with Aaron Smith, Malakai Fekitoa and Ben Smith around him.
Malakai Fekitoa, the best back in the competition?