Cape Town - The time has arrived! Super Rugby 2016 is upon us. What's in store this weekend in Round 1?
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 26
Blues v Highlanders, Auckland - 08:35
The Blues, it's fair to say, were shocking last season. But under new coach and icon Tana Umaga, they seem to have redeveloped some swagger - certainly, an unbeaten pre-season would suggest as much. The Highlanders will this season find themselves in the unfamiliar situation of having a target on their backs. Can they handle it? Under new leadership, I can see the Blues setting their stall out early with a win.
Prediction: Blues by 4
Brumbies v Hurricanes, Canberra - 10:45
The Hurricanes have not visited Canberra since 2013, and they have not won there since 2010. The men from Wellington are in a rebuilding phase (in the midfield, at least) after losing several of their biggest names in the off season. The Brumbies are less affected, and they will be keen to avenge last season's loss in the knockout stages. Home advantage swings it for me.
Prediction: Brumbies by 6
Cheetahs v Jaguares, Bloemfontein - 19:00
The Jaguares kick off their Super Rugby adventure in Bloemfontein against last season's South African whipping boys the Cheetahs. The Argentinians thrashed the Lions in their last pre-season game, but were also humbled by the Stormers themselves. As for the men from the Free State, they shocked the Bulls before limping past the Kings. All of which essentially tells us nothing. The Jaguares might be new in name, but their players are plenty familiar with each other. I think they'll have enough to get a win here.
Prediction: Jaguares by 10
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 27
Sunwolves v Lions, Tokyo - 06:15
It is largely predicted that the Sunwolves are going to have a pretty tough time of it, given many of Japan's World Cup heroes will not be turning out for them (in stark contrast to the aforementioned Argentinian Jaguares). They face a tough test first up, against a Lions side who enter the season after a settled few months off. The men from Johannesburg were a joy to watch last year - they should kick off 2016 with a comprehensive win.
Prediction: Lions by 25
Crusaders v Chiefs, Christchurch - 08:35
Any side would find it difficult to lose two legends like Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, but the Crusaders seem to be taking it particularly hard - their 74-7 loss to the Hurricanes in pre-season was quite astonishing. The Chiefs look more settled and have won four of the last five instalments of this fixture, including the last two games in Christchurch. Add in that the Crusaders are notoriously slow starters, and it all points to an away win.
Prediction: Chiefs by 9
Waratahs v Reds, Sydney - 10:45
The history of this fixture is quite extraordinary - the Waratahs have won the last four in a row, before that the Reds won five in a row, and before that the Waratahs had won seven in a row. Whatever you read into that, it's clear that the men from New South Wales are in a period of dominance, and nothing that happened over the off-season (not least the Reds deciding to keep on coach Richard Graham, who has a 28% win percentage in Super Rugby) suggests that is likely to change this weekend.
Prediction: Waratahs by 21
Force v Rebels, Perth - 12:55
The game between the 'other' two Australian franchises is arguably one of the more difficult to predict on the opening weekend. Both instalments of this fixture last season were won by the away side on the day, and with a winning margin of no more than four points. It all points to a close game this weekend in Perth - and like many picks at the beginning of the season, home advantage swings it for me.
Prediction: Force by 3
Kings v Sharks, Port Elizabeth - 15:00
The Kings' preparations for their return to Super Rugby have been well documented - it's fair to say they have been less than ideal. They look unlikely to trouble too many sides this year, and first up they have a team that will be looking to put a disappointing 2015 behind them. The Sharks have a few injury problems, but there is enough quality within their ranks that they should record a simple enough victory here.
Prediction: Sharks by 15
Stormers v Bulls, Cape Town - 17:05
The Stormers have been handed a dream draw this season and will be keen to get it off to a good start against fellow South African hopefuls the Bulls. The men from Cape Town have won four of the last five instalments of this fixture, and the Bulls haven't won at Newlands since 2011. There will be plenty of intrigue around the midfield battle, where we should find Juan de Jongh, Jan Serfontein and Jesse Kriel, but as ever expect this to be a hugely attritional affair.
Prediction: Stormers by 6Click HERE to follow Jamie Hosie on Twitter