All Black duo to bow out in style
Wellington - All Blacks stars Richie McCaw and Dan Carter will look to go out on a high when the final Super 15 competition starts on Friday as the Rugby World Cup approaches fast.
New Zealand's iconic captain and flyhalf respectively appear set to bow out of Super rugby after this year's competition, which will be replaced by a new-look, 18-team version next year.
Both have been named for Canterbury Crusaders' tournament-opener against the Melbourne Rebels on Friday as the seven-time champions take aim at ending their seven-year title drought.
"There is something special about this season, with it being our 20th Crusade and Rugby World Cup year," Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder told the Super 15 website.
"So there is a real buzz within the team at the moment, they are fired up for this season and ready to get it started."
Carter, 32, will play for France's Racing Metro next season, while 34-year-old McCaw is expected to reveal his plans for the future in the coming days.
Fellow thirty-somethings Conrad Smith and Ma'a Nonu have also signed with French clubs for next season, while Tony Woodcock and Keven Mealamu are expected to retire after the World Cup.
While it is goodbye to the New Zealand stalwarts, Super rugby is saying hello to an ambitious new era with teams from Japan and Argentina joining the expanded competition next year.
The World Cup starting in September will also raise interest in the valedictory Super 15, which wraps up in early July and can decide the ambitions of many players hoping to feature in England and Wales.
Game-time for established players will be carefully monitored with South Africa's key men given rest periods as clubs heed the call of Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer.
Meanwhile serial code-hopper Sonny Bill Williams will look to write another chapter in his fairytale career by helping Chiefs win a third title in four years.
Williams, back from his latest stint in rugby league, helped the Chiefs win their first title in 2012 and he now stands to earn Super, World Cup and Olympic honours as he embarks on a two-year deal.
All rivals will have to wrest the Super Rugby Trophy from the Waratahs, whose coach Michael Cheika will also lead Australia at the World Cup.
Cheika brought a first Super title to Sydney after building a side stacked with Wallabies including Benn Robinson, Kurtley Beale and Israel Folau.
Their main competition in Australia should come from the Reds, who have hired New Zealand-born code-switcher Karmichael Hunt and given another chance to wayward back James O'Connor.
Three-time champions the Northern Bulls look the best bet to end South Africa's five-year run without a title, with stand-in skipper Victor Matfield promising an attacking approach as club captain and influential number eight Pierre Spies starts on the bench against Western Stormers on Saturday after returning from injury.
"We want to go out and score tries - if you don't score tries you won't win this competition," Matfield said.
"If you look at the stats each year, it is almost always the team that scores the most tries that wins it."
"So it is about scoring tries and we've worked hard on that, especially playing from broken field, so hopefully we can score some nice tries this year."