Wellington - All Blacks stars Richie McCaw and Dan Carter are likely to play their last home matches for the Crusaders when they meet the Reds at the start of the 13th round of Super Rugby on Friday.
It will be the Crusaders' last match in Christchurch in the regular season. They will play the Hurricanes at their secondary home ground at Nelson in round 16 and, currently in ninth spot, have little chance of a home playoff.
Carter, who is in his 13th season with the Crusaders, will join French club Racing Metro after the World Cup, which kicks off in September.
McCaw, who has accumulated more than 110 Super Rugby caps across 15 seasons, has yet to make a definitive statement on his future but is considered likely to retire after the Rugby World Cup.
Carter, the world-record scorer in test rugby, has been kept out of the flyhalf role this season by fellow All Black Colin Slade and will start again at inside center. Slade is also likely playing his last match in Christchurch before heading overseas, as is fullback Tom Taylor.
McCaw will start on the bench as he returns from a head injury. The New Zealand test captain says the Crusaders must ignore any emotional elements of Friday's match to concentrate on strengthening their bid for a place in the playoffs.
The Crusaders are third in the New Zealand conference behind the Hurricanes and Chiefs and five points outside the top six in the overall standings. Friday's match against the 14th-place Reds is the easiest of their remaining games. They have a bye next weekend, then a tough finish against the defending champion New South Wales Waratahs, the Hurricanes and the Australian conference-leading ACT Brumbies.
McCaw said it is too early to dismiss the Crusaders' playoff chances.
"We've still got a (lot of the) season to go yet so you don't want to start thinking like that," he said. "Stanger things have happened. We could have another game back here if we do it right."
Carter was also trying to keep emotions in check ahead of a crucial match for the seven-time champions.
"Being a Cantabrian and growing up in Christchurch to play for Canterbury and the Crusaders has meant so much to me," he said. "To think it is probably going to be my last game on home soil means it will be a pretty emotional time throughout the week."
The top spots in the Australian and South African conferences may hinge on the clash in Cape Town on Saturday between the Stormers and Brumbies.
The Brumbies lost 13-10 last weekend to the Waratahs, meaning their lead over New South Wales shrunk to one point.
The Waratahs have the chance to move ahead this round when they travel to Perth to face the last-place Western Force, although they were beaten 25-13 by the Force in round one.
The Stormers gave up a short-lived lead in South Africa with a 25-17 loss last weekend to the Cheetahs after beating the Bulls in the previous round. The Bulls have a bye this weekend and the Stormers need a win to keep pace.
The top-ranked Hurricanes are at home to the 11th-place Sharks on Saturday and can stretch their lead in New Zealand while the second-placed Chiefs have a bye.
Tom Taylor, 14 Nafi Tuitavake, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Dan Carter, 11 Nemani
Nadolo, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Matt
Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2
Codie Taylor, 1 Wyatt Crockett
16 Ben Funnell, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Joe Moody, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20
Richie McCaw, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Kieron Fonotia, 23 Jone Macilai
Lachie Turner, 14 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Anthony
Fainga’a, 11 James O’Connor, 10 Nick Frisby, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake
Schatz, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 James Horwill, 4 Rob Simmons, 3
Greg Holmes, 2 James Hanson, 1 James Slipper (captain)
16 Andrew Ready, 17 Sef Fa'agase, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Marco Kotze, 20
Lolo Fakaosilea, 21 Scott Gale, 22 Ben Tapuai, 23 Jamie-Jerry Taulagi