Cullen Grace (Crusaders)
It's a big night in Auckland on Friday for Grace. The drums have been beating around his ability for some time now and he gets an opportunity on the blindside flank. Originally from South Canterbury, Grace has an impressive age-group lineage at NZ Schools and NZ Under-20 level and came through the hard way as part of Lincoln University's championship winning side and Canterbury Under-19. High hopes are held that he has an exciting long-term future with the Crusaders.
Alex Nankiville (Chiefs)
Nankiville is one of those cornerstone players that every side needs. Less likely to be a regular starting player, he nevertheless offers plenty when coming off the bench, And when getting a start, as is the case in Tokyo this week, he revels in the chance to unleash his particular skills. His 21 appearances for the Chiefs have been spread over four seasons but he has consistently made an impact when on the field. Solid experience with the high-performing Tasman side is also an asset. He will be a key player in Tokyo for the side.
Rob Thompson (Highlanders)
Disappointment featured high for Thompson last week when missing what under normal circumstances would have been a 'gimme' try for the Highlanders at a key moment in their loss to the Sharks. That was a measure of the desire he demonstrates regularly to see the side succeed and it is not something that is likely to feature again. Up against a formidable opponent like the Brumbies should provide him with suitable incentive to seek redemption where it matters most– in the heat of the fire.
Isaia Walker-Leawere (Hurricanes)
Having shown the depth of resolve within their squad to come back from a scoreless loss to the Stormers in round one, the Hurricanes beat the Jaguares by coming from behind in Buenos Aires. The effort of the pack was central to that and lock Walker-Leawere is increasingly part of the emerging force that is the Hurricanes front five. The Sharks impressed with their forward effort against the Highlanders and have some big men in their lineout and Walker-Leawere faces some stiff opposition but with 18 games in Super Rugby behind him is well equipped to step up to the challenge.
Aphelele Fassi (Sharks)
Demonstrating his class in both broken and support play running into the line from fullback in Dunedin last week, Fassi announced his Super Rugby arrival in no uncertain terms to pick up two tries. He will be one player the Hurricanes will need to contain if they are to be competitive in their first game at home in Wellington. Fassi's speed makes him ideally equipped with to take full advantage of the good ball his pack can win, and with the other talented individuals in the Sharks backline he can be just as effective as a decoy runner as with ball in hand. This is a serious attacking unit.