HURRICANES v REDS in Wellington, Friday 5.35pm AEST
VINCE Aso's Super Rugby season is over, in some rare bad injury news for the Hurricanes in the lead-up to their clash with the Reds.
Lightning quick outside-back Aso needs wrist ligament surgery and won't return to the field for three months, making him unavailable for a Hurricanes team whose attrition rate has been better than most.
Aso's absence hasn't stopped coach Chris Boyd resting All Blacks inside-centre Ngani Laumape for Friday's match in Wellington, handing a competition debut to 20-year-old Peter Umaga-Jensen.
There are six changes to the starting side that beat the Blues 36-15 in Auckland, the Hurricanes' ninth successive win.
The most notable omission is captain Brad Shields, who is on the bench after starting the past 39 matches for the Wellington-based team.
Boyd scotched suggestions Shields had been rested upon the request of England coach Eddie Jones.
The 27-year-old flanker was recently selected in the England squad to tour South Africa in June, having received clearance from New Zealand Rugby.
Reed Prinsep takes the blindside berth, while No.8 Blade Thomson makes his first start of a season that has been spoiled for him by concussion.
Halfback TJ Perenara takes over the captaincy from Shields in his return to the starting side, while fullback Jordie Barrett is back from injury, pushing Nehe Milner-Skudder to the wing and Julian Savea to the bench.
Barrett said the Hurricanes are reading little into the Reds' flaky form in 2018, which includes last week's embarrassing 63-28 loss to the previously winless Sunwolves.
"We're not reading too much into that because the week before they beat the Lions. They're a side who can shift from week to week," Barrett said.
"They're quite a young team. (Samu) Kerevi and those young guys, even if they have been quiet, they'll get up for us. Every team tries to get up, especially in Wellington."
Meanwhile, the Reds welcome back their captain Scott Higginbotham, who has missed the majority of the season due to suspension and injury.
Higginbotham is one of three changes to the side to take on the competition heavyweights and forms a back-row combination alongside George Smith and rookie Angus Scott-Young.
There is one change to the front-row with JP Smith returning at loose-head prop, with James Slipper not considered due to "welfare reasons".
The other change is in the backline after outside centre Chris Feauai-Sautia was ruled out due to concussion.
Wallaby Samu Kerevi shifts to outside centre and he's joined in the midfield by Duncan Paia'aua, who has had limited minutes under Thorn this year.
Jono Lance will continue to operate at fly-half, and young gun Hamish Stewart retains his position in the run-on side at fullback.
There are also a number of interesting selections on the bench with outside back Izaia Perese, hooker Andrew Ready and tight-head prop Ruan Smith named.
HURRICANES (15-1): Jordie Barrett, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Matt Proctor, Peter Umaga- Jensen, Ben Lam, Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara (c), Blade Thomson, Ardie Savea, Reed Prinsep, Sam Lousi, Michael Fatialofa, Jeff Toomaga-Allen, Ricky Riccitelli, Toby Smith
Reserves: James O'Reilly, Chris Eves, Ben May, Vaea Fifita, Brad Shields, Jamie Booth, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Julian Savea
REDS (15-1): Hamish Stewart, Filipo Daugunu, Samu Kerevi, Duncan Paia'aua, Jordan Petaia, Jono Lance, Ben Lucas, Scott Higginbotham (c), George Smith, Angus Scott-Young, Kane Douglas, Izack Rodda, Taniela Tupou, Brandon Paenga- Amosa, JP Smith.
Reserves: Andrew Ready, Sef Fa'agase, Ruan Smith, Harry Hockings, Liam Wright, Moses Sorovi, Izaia Perese, Aidan Toua.
Referee: Ben O'Keeffe (NZ)
Venue: Westpac Stadium
WARATAHS v HIGHLANDERS in Sydney, Saturday 7.45pm AEST
The Waratahs have lost Test forward Ned Hanigan for at least month in an injury blow that all but rules the 23-year-old out of Wallabies selection for next month's three-match series with Ireland.
Hanigan had been expected to be sidelined for two weeks after hurting his knee in Saturday's Super Rugby loss to the Crusaders in Christchurch.
But Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson has revealed Hanigan may be out for up to six weeks.
"He's probably more on the four (weeks out) side, which is really positive, and we just hope to get him back," Gibson said.
The enforced lay-off rules Hanigan out of Saturday night's hosting of the Highlanders, next week's trip to Hamilton to face the Chiefs and the round 16 conference derby with the Reds in Brisbane.
Super Rugby then breaks for the June Tests, but that will be of little consolation to Hanigan and Wallabies coach Michael Cheika.
Despite playing mostly in the second row this season for the Waratahs, Hanigan played 12 Tests last year as a blindside flanker for Australia.
His injury has opened the door for Tom Staniforth to partner Rob Simmons in the second row for the Highlanders clash at Allianz Stadium.
Ryan McCauley has won a spot on the bench as reserve lock.
Fortunately for Gibson, Simmons has overcome a shoulder injury, while flanker Will Miller and hooker Damien Fitzpatrick have both passed head injury assessments after being concussed against the Crusaders.
Gibson continues to rotate his halfbacks, with Jake Gordon to start on Saturday and Nick Phipps promised to return next week against the Chiefs.
In the only other change, Tolu Latu has been named on the bench as reserve hooker in place of Hugh Roach.
Despite reports suggesting the Highlanders might opt to rest co-captain Ben Smith - with Test players required to miss two Super Rugby matches by NZR - Aaron Mauger has named his star All Black for the showdown against the Waratahs.
Smith's inclusion is a sign of the respect that the Highlanders are showing the Waratahs.
Aaron Smith returns at halfback after being rested during their win tight win over the Lions last week in Dunedin.
Elsewhere lock Jackson Hemopo and loose-forward Elliot Dixon return to the starting side, while Sio Tomkinson forms a midfield combination alongside Rob Thompson with Teihorangi Walden ruled out due to concussion.
WARATAHS (15-1): Israel Folau, Cam Clark, Curtis Rona, Kurtley Beale, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Bernard Foley, Jake Gordon, Michael Wells, Michael Hooper (c), Will Miller, Rob Simmons, Tom Staniforth, Sekope Kepu, Damien Fitzpatrick, Tom Robertson
Reserves: Tolu Latu, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Shambeckler Vui, Ryan McCauley, Jed Holloway, Nick Phipps, Lalakai Foketi, Bryce Hegarty
HIGHLANDERS (15-1): Ben Smith (co-c), Waisake Naholo, Rob Thompson, Sio Tomkinson, Tevita Nabura, Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Smith, Luke Whitelock, Dillion Hunt, Elliot Dixon, Tom Franklin, Jackson Hemopo, Tyrel Lomax, Ash Dixon (co-c), Daniel Lienert-Brown
Reserves: Liam Coltman, Aki Seiuli, Kalolo Tuiloma, Shannon Frizell, Marino Mikaele Tu'u
Kayne Hammington, Josh Ioane, Tevita Li
Referee: Brendon Pickerill (NZ)
Venue: Allianz Stadium