Super Rugby, minus the Australian teams , will this weekend attempt pick up the threads of a tournament which had become compelling before being interrupted for three weeks for June test matches.
The contest for playoffs places in the Southern Hemisphere tournament had steadily intensified as it approached the disruptive late-season break which put New Zealand and South African teams out of action for three weeks.
Australian teams are idle for longer and won't return to Super Rugby until July 12 because of the tour by the British and Irish Lions.
Now teams with playoffs hopes still alive will attempt to restore the momentum of their campaigns, depending to some extent on players battered and bruised over the last three weeks of international play.
The Brumbies were leading the tournament ladder when play ceased for June tests, three points ahead of defending champions the Hamilton-based Chiefs who could return to the lead if they beat the Wellington-based Hurricanes in the first match of the new round on Friday.
The Chiefs lead the New Zealand conference by 10 points from the Christchurch-based Crusaders and, with three regular season matches remaining, will clinch the conference title and cement home advantage in the playoffs with a win on their home ground this weekend.
The Pretoria-based Bulls, in third place overall, lead the South African conference by eight points ahead of the Bloemfontein-based Cheetahs and will equally drive home their regional superiority if they can beat the Port Elizabeth-based Southern Kings on Saturday.
The Bloemfontein-based Cheetahs face the Cape Town-based Stormers in the last match of the round, which also impacts heavily on the South African conference and the wider playoffs race.
In other matches, the sixth-placed Crusaders need to beat the last-placed Highlanders at Dunedin to keep their playoffs chances alive.
Their hold on the last place among the top-six teams that will qualify for the playoffs remains under threat from the Waratahs, in seventh place, and the Auckland-based Blues, in eighth, who face the Durban-based Sharks on Friday.
The Chiefs will be able to bring several players involved in the All Blacks' 3-0 test series win over France immediately back into action.
Flyhalf Aaron Cruden played the first two tests of that series but missed the last as Dan Carter returned from injury.
He will don the No. 10 jersey again on Saturday, supplying an integral part of the Chiefs' weaponry as they attempt to revive their push for back-to-back championships.
Lock Brodie Retallick, who played the first test against France but missed the next two with a hamstring strain, has recovered and is able to reclaim his place in the Chiefs' starting lineup while prop Ben Afeaki, who made his test debut in the first French test, returns from a calf injury.
Flanker Sam Cane, who played all but seven minutes of the three tests against France, has been named on the bench.
The Chiefs are wary of the ninth-placed Hurricanes, remembering they emerged from last year's break for test matches to upset the Crusaders while falling narrowly short of playoffs qualification.
"The Hurricanes had a pretty good win against the Crusaders (in a friendly match) last week and will be buoyed by that," Chiefs coach Dave Rennie said.
"Mathematically they are still in the competition and they have everything to play for.
"It will be pretty physical and as the weather is expected to play its part, you will see two positive sides on the field having a real arm wrestle."
Backrower Dewald Potgeiter will captain the Bulls against the Kings, taking over the leadership from Pierre Spies who has been ruled out of the rest of the season with a biceps injury.
Coach Frans Ludeke has made eight changes to his lineup for the match from the one that beat the Cheetahs 30-25 on June 1.
Zane Kirchner returns to the starting lineup after a long injury lay-off while Akona Ndungane, Wynand Olivier and Louis Fouche resume starting roles.
Flyhalf Morne Steyn and center JJ Engelbrecht, who played for the Springboks in their quadrangular test series against Scotland, Italy and Samoa, have both been named on the bench.
"It's good to have a few of our front-line players back as we head into the business end of the competition, especially since we've lost a few players to injury," Ludeke said.
"This is a massive game for us - each game in Super Rugby is. But we've set our goals for the season and now is the time to make sure we achieve them. The Kings will not be an easy opponent, as there is no such thing in this competition."
The Cheetahs will also have a new captain when they take on the Stormers, hoping to recapture the form they displayed before the break in what has been their best Super Rugby season.
Flanker Deon Fourie takes over the captaincy from Springboks captain Jean de Villiers, who was injured during the test series.
Springboks center Juan de Jongh replaces de Villiers in the No. 13 jersey in the only change to the Cheetahs' lineup from the one which beat the Kings 19-11 in their most-recent match.
The Stormers have made two changes to their latest lineup, both on the bench where hooker Scarra Ntubeni and prop Ross Geldenhuys, on debut, replace Martin Bezuidenhout and Chris Heiberg.
Even though they are no longer realistic playoffs contenders the Stormers are determined to prove they are better than their current 11th place suggests.
"The Cheetahs have everything to play for," Stormers coach Allister Coetzee said.
"They're a good team, they've done well in the tournament and they have play-off possibilities."