Teams that have struggled in previous play-offs are a week away from deciding where their focus will lie – between Super Rugby and the Currie Cup.
This prompts coaches to reassess physical and mental fatigue that players endure in the restructured competition. It is then also expected that squads with greater playing depth will start rising above those who have been worse off from injuries.
Having had their first bye in the opening week and only making the trip overseas in the final phase of the competition, the resilience in the Stormers squad will be tested on Saturday when they take on a bruised Chiefs outfit in Hamilton.
The return of steadfast flyhalf Peter Grant could not have come at a better time for the Cape franchise.
Springbok wing Bryan Habana and scrumhalf Ricky Januarie have also been named in the starting squad this weekend.
In the next match on Saturday a re-shuffled Lions outfit take on the Lions in Canberra. Lions will have World Cup winning flyhalf Butch James on the bench while the Brumbies will soon be coached by another World Cup winner in former Springbok coach, Jake White. The Lions have suffered seven consecutive defeats and it is usually at this point of the competition where their lack of depth is exposed.
The Brumbies have also been out of shape, but should be too strong for the most inexperienced side in the competition.
In the first contest in South Africa of the weekend, the Bulls host the Melbourne Rebels at Loftus in another must-win match for the defending champions. Springbok Fourie du Preez will lead out the men from Pretoria with regular skipper Victor Matfield struggling with a neck strain, but is included on the bench because of his experience.
Due to a mid-season slump, the Bulls will find it very difficult to rotate their key players during the final phase of the tournament. They have not been in form which indicates a late resurgence that could help them sneak in the back door to the play-offs.
In the final match of the weekend, the Cheetahs take on Crusaders who have both Dan Carter and Richie McCaw in their squad.
The key contest in Bloemfontein will be between flankers, McCaw and Heinrich Brussow. Brussow’s form has improved with every game he played since returning from injury and even if his team loses the match, a victory at the breakdown will be viewed as a satisfactory outcome from a Springbok perspective.