Kieran Read, George Bridge and Codie Taylor of the Crusaders. Photo: John Davidson /

A no-holds barred showdown is expected when Crusaders defend their unbeaten Super Rugby record in a grudge match Saturday against an Highlanders side on a nine-game win streak.

"Both teams are going to go hell for leather and throw the ball around and be really physical. It's going to be an intense match," warned Highlanders coach Tony Brown, a prediction that will send chills down the spine of All Blacks coach Steve Hansen.

With several injured players, including captain Kieran Read, in a race against time to be fit for the first Test against the British and Irish Lions in three weeks, Hansen can ill-afford any more carnage despite New Zealand derbies being renowned for their physicality.

But the Highlanders have a score to settle with the Crusaders and will not hold back.

When they last met 13 weeks ago the Crusaders piled on 24 points in the final 25 minutes to pull off a dramatic 30-27 victory.

The meltdown still haunts the Highlanders, who say it is payback time.

"You prepare every game to win so if you call that payback, then so be it. It was a tough one to swallow last time," Highlanders assistant coach Mark Hammett said.

Only Australian and New Zealand teams are involved in round 15 this weekend as Super Rugby winds down for the June international season.

Teams in the African conferences – including the Golden Lions who are the Crusaders' nearest rivals to top the overall competition – are sitting out the round as the Springboks prepare for their Test series against France.

Tevita Li of the Highlanders. Photo: Joe Allison/

Sonny Bill sits out

Only the Waikato Chiefs and Wellington Hurricanes play next week, with the competition to resume on June 30 when the African sides complete round 15 and the Australian and New Zealand teams return over the following two weeks.

The Crusaders, led by Sam Whitelock, are under pressure to keep their unbeaten record and stay head of the Lions at the top of the table.

The Highlanders, captained by younger brother Luke Whitelock, need the win to have any chance of overtaking the Wellington Hurricanes who are second in the New Zealand conference.

The runner-up slot offers a likely quarter-final against the ACT Brumbies in Australia while any team further down the list faces an arduous trip to South Africa.

The Hurricanes travel to Perth to face the Western Force on Saturday, before a tough close to the regular season when they play the Chiefs next weekend and the Crusaders after the June break.

The Brumbies, with three games to play and nine points clear of the NSW Waratahs in the Australian conference, are at home to the hapless Melbourne Rebels while the Waratahs cross the Tasman to play the Chiefs.

Sonny Bill Williams, another All Black under an injury cloud with a knee issue, will miss the Auckland Blues match against the Queensland Reds when Super Rugby makes its debut in Samoa on Friday.

The Reds have made four changes following their loss to the Force last week, with hooker Stephen Moore rested and James Tuttle at scrum-half ahead of Nick Frisby.