In the final weekend of the regular Super 15 season, the Southern Hemisphere promises to round off their campaigns with a bang, regardless of whether or not they’ll advance to the competition’s finals.
The Crusaders are so far the only outfit to have already booked their spot in the next phase of the tournament, and they'll soon find who it is they’ll be facing.
Whether it’s the highlight cast of the Bulls or a particularly impressive star of the Southern Kings, all players mentioned here will be worth keeping an eye on in hopes of some dazzling displays.
Jean de Villiers, Stormers
Having missed the last few weeks of the season through a sternum injury, Jean de Villiers will look to round the Stormers’ season off with a bang as he makes his return in the season’s final fixture.
The former Munster centre hasn’t been missed all too sorely of late as Allister Coetzee’s side have stretched their unbeaten run to four matches, even in his absence.
However, with several weeks' recuperation under his belt, de Villiers should now feel ready to make further impact for his side in an attempt to dent the season of the Bulls, currently residing at the top of the Super 15 table.
The Stormers are now incapable of making their way to the final thanks to some unsavoury results in Round 19, but they will have plenty of pride to protect against one of the league’s giants.
In terms of morale, the Stormers will be nowhere but sky-high upon seeing the return of their captain to the middle of the fore, perhaps gifting them that extra confidence needed to go and cause an upset this weekend.
Playing in the 12 spot, de Villiers is likely to be the key to unlocking that strong Bulls backline, while anyone familiar with the 32-year-old will know just how likely he is to make his own individual flashes of brilliance, too.
Christian Leali’ifano, Brumbies
With the British and Irish Lions test series now done and dusted, Australian sides are breathing a collective sigh of relief upon the return of their international stars.
The Brumbies benefit as much as any other side in that sense, with coach Jake White naming seven Australian internationals in his 22-man squad for this weekend’s trip to Perth.
Of those seven, Christian Leali’ifano was as involved as any other in the three-test series against Warren Gatland’s Lions, giving the Aussies a particularly strong boost in the second of those games, which Australia just about edged.
Coming back into the Brumbies centres, the 25-year-old will now seek to light matters up just as he did on the international stage several weeks ago, this time in hopes of claiming second place for his franchise.
Although the Western Force are simmering around the bottom of the Super 15 table, their defence is actually one of their better aspects. It’s simply a lack of scoring that has prevented the side from succeeding of late.
As a result, it’ll be Leali’ifano’s responsibility to see to it that their defence is broken down this weekend, although the No. 12 has shown his powers from the tee on the Lions tour, should it come down to a kicking game.
Piri Weepu, Blues
Considering the 17-point gap that currently separates the two Super 15 sides, the ninth-placed Blues may not pose much of a threat to the second-spot Chiefs heading into this weekend’s encounters.
However, if Sir John Kirwan’s men were to have any chance of causing an upset, those chances are definitely buoyed by the return of Piri Weepu, once again at full health following a rib injury.
Without Weepu, the Blues have lost their last three matches, although that record stretches to five including games that Weepu has featured in also.
Having gone off the boil for parts of his campaign, the halfback’s return undoubtedly gives a certain dimension of added class to the Bulls’ fore.
The New Zealand international prefers to play quick ball, and for long phases of play at that. To add that he’s a superb kicking talent only adds to Weepu’s resume as a supremely valuable member of the squad, and his involvement will be critical if any upset is to be had over the Chiefs.