Super Rugby

Marty Banks back as Highlanders first-five

With former All Black Lima Sopoaga moving to English side Wasps, the Highlanders have brought Banks back to run the cutter alongside young playmakers Otago's Josh Ioane and North Harbour's Bryn Gatland.

Banks will play for the Highlanders an agreement was finalised with his Japanese side NTT Docomo and the Highlanders.

Champions Crusaders not about to slow down

The most dominant team in the competition's history made it nine titles in 22 years with a typically ruthless 37-18 defeat of the Lions in the final in Christchurch on Saturday.

Defending their title with virtually the same team who tasted glory against the Lions in Johannesburg a year earlier, the Crusaders are set to trot out close to an identical group in 2019.

Bursting with All Blacks forwards and some of the premier young backline talent in New Zealand, it seems even now it will take something special to prevent Scott Robertson's men from claiming a hat-trick.

Crusaders ready to roll over Hurricanes

If they can get past the only other New Zealand team still in contention, just one more win will separate the defending champions from a staggering ninth championship.

The omens are good - the Crusaders have won 11 of their 16 semifinals appearances, never lost a finals encounter in Christchurch, and beaten the Hurricanes all four times the two teams have met in the play-offs.

Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd says that's an impressive record, and admits the home advantage will provide a real boost for the Crusaders.

Crusaders back to near full strength

International class will ooze from the starting XV, the reserve bench and even the grandstand in Christchurch on Saturday for what shapes as the most lop-sided of the quarter-finals.

The Durban-based Sharks, who snuck into eighth place on points differential ahead of the Melbourne Rebels, face a series of immense obstacles.

First is travel, so often a crippling impediment in the finals.

Then there's a miserable 1-11 win-loss record in Christchurch and the form of the defending champions, who have won 12 straight games.

NZ teams gear up for Super Rugby finals

It's one win each so far for both teams, but more importantly the Chiefs beat the Hurricanes last weekend without a number of their stars and playing much of the second half with only 14 men.

In fact the red card and subsequent suspension of back Jonathan Fa'auli left a bit of bitterness between the two sides.

Back at home in Wellington for the quarter-final, the Hurricanes are determined to redeem themselves as well as send their five departing players, and coach Chris Boyd, off in style.

Towering twins to start for Brumbies

The Arnold twins, who stand at 208cm, will form the tallest locking combination in Super Rugby history when they run out in Sydney as the Brumbies look to supersize their team against NSW.

Loosehead prop Scott Sio returns to the starting side from injury in a boost for the ACT side and one of two other changes to the starting side.

Blake Enever moves into the backrow to replace Tom Cusack (concussion) and team up with David Pocock and Isi Naisarani.

Sam Carter is the only other change in the Brumbies 23 after missing weeks with a back concern.

Crusaders seal Super Rugby top spot with five-try win

On a big night in Christchurch for Crusaders greats Kieran Read and Wyatt Crockett, their team clinched the coveted home advantage throughout the play-offs with a round to spare.

Playmaker Richie Mo'unga contributed 25 points in the five-try win, while winger George Bridge grabbed a double to bring his try tally for the season to 11.

The Highlanders battled hard to stay in touch during the first half, but could only manage one try - to Waisake Naholo - in the second stanza as the Crusaders wore them down up front and the missed tackles started to mount.

Blues smash Reds in Super Rugby card-fest

Two contentious first half yellow cards two minutes apart cruelled any chance the Reds had of breaking their six-year drought at Auckland's Eden Park.

While they were reduced to 13 men, the Blues ran in two tries to open up a 21-6 halftime lead and were never headed despite seeing two yellow cards of their own in the second half.

Duncan Paia'aua and Alex Mafi crossed to add some respectability for Queensland but it was too little, too late.

Seven changes to Chiefs lineup

Due to All Blacks commitments Damian McKenzie, Brodie Retallick, Anton Leinert-Brown and Nathan Harris have returned to New Zealand following last week's win over the Stormers in Cape Town.

Add to that the injury toll the chiefs have suffered and they're without a total of 20 players for the match.

In the forwards, Liam Polwart starts at hooker for Harris, Tyler Ardron moves to lock in place of Retallick and Pita Gus Sowakula gets a start in the number eight jersey.

Sam Whitelock to miss Blues game

Vice-captain Crotty will link with Jack Goodhue in the midfield.

The Crusaders have made six changes and one positional switch from the side that beat the Waratahs last week.

In the front row, Tim Perry makes his return from a hamstring injury and will start at loosehead prop. All Black Owen Franks also returns to the starting side this week, and Mike Alaalatoa moves to the reserves.