Get ready for the great Super Rugby farewell tour, as a star group of New Zealand players prepare to end their time in the championship.
The competition may be expanding to 18 teams next year, but there will be a noticeable hole left by six players acknowledged as among the best to come out of New Zealand – all well into their 30s and poised to finish with southern hemisphere rugby.
Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Tony Woodcock and Keven Mealamu should all sign off after the World Cup, either to overseas contracts or retirement.
It is the end of an era for a group whose international careers span beyond a decade, averaging 109 All Blacks Tests per man.
Fans in New Zealand, Australia and South Africa are used to the comings and goings in the professional age, but it is hard to recall such weighty names all cramming through the exit gate at once.
None will lack for motivation in their final campaigns.
The jewels in the New Zealand crown are flanker McCaw, who will reportedly announce retirement plans soon, and five-eighth Carter, who will be become rugby’s highest-paid player in France next year.
Neither will want their glittering CVs besmirched by a run of Crusaders near-misses at Super Rugby level.
After becoming used to winning titles, the competition’s greatest team has made a habit of tripping up in the post-season since 2008.
Injuries and sabbaticals have reduced the McCaw-Carter impact in recent years, but both are fit and firing together from round one this time in a squad that looks as formidable as ever.
Not since 2003 have front rowers Keven Mealamu and Tony Woodcock tasted Super Rugby success with the Blues.
The pair, who are both likely to retire, face an uphill struggle to reverse that trend in 2015. The Blues boast a patchy squad whose propensity to lose away from Auckland has shut them out of the playoffs for three straight seasons.
Hurricanes midfield pair Smith and Nonu, who have both signed with French clubs, have never won a Super Rugby title.
Nonu was involved in their only final appearance, in 2006, but since then the Hurricanes have promised plenty but under-delivered in the eyes of many.
All six players will come up short if the Chiefs have their say.
Champions in 2012 and 2013, they look stronger than the side who placed fifth last year, not least through the return of cross-code star Sonny Bill Williams.
Joining the Crusaders and Chiefs in last year’s playoffs were the surprise packet Highlanders, whose squad again looks modest on paper but boldly defied dire predictions in 2014.
Seeing off the defending champion Waratahs could prove the greatest challenge of all if the 20th edition of Super Rugby is to end with a Kiwi winner for the 13th time.
12 – NZ (Crusaders 7, Blues 3, Chiefs 2)
4 – Australia (Brumbies 2, Reds 1, Waratahs 1)
3 – South Africa (Bulls 3)