MELBOURNE (Reuters) - The ACT Brumbies will risk their perfect start to the season when they send an understrength team to face champions Canterbury Crusaders in Super Rugby Pacific on Friday.
With four straight wins, the Canberra-based side have not put a foot wrong on the field but the staff's decision to rest a slew of test players for the weekend's opener in Christchurch has wrongfooted more than a few fans.
A full-strength Brumbies might have hoped to snap an 11-match losing streak to the Crusaders and claim a first away win against them since 2000.
However, the going will be much tougher without a crop of seasoned Wallabies on playing restrictions for the benefit of Australia's World Cup planning.
They include captain James Slipper, flyhalf Nic White and back row enforcer Rob Valetini.
"When we just looked at it on paper, it made sense. This was the round we could rest some of our guys," coach Stephen Larkham told reporters.
"We haven't rested all of them, we've made some changes in areas we feel we've got really good coverage in."
The Crusaders have had an eventful week with coach Scott Robertson confirmed as the All Blacks coach-in-waiting and the playing list hit by further injuries to veteran lock Sam Whitelock and livewire winger Sevu Reece.
The Crusaders' impressive depth was on show last week, though, as they humbled the Auckland Blues 34-28 at Eden Park in a repeat of last year's final.
In the second match on Friday more pain could be in store for the New South Wales Waratahs, who are suffering their own injury crisis and are mired in a 1-3 hole.
They host the unbeaten Waikato Chiefs, who rested top players last week but still ran in six tries in a 44-25 home defeat of the Melbourne Rebels.
The Chiefs welcome back co-captains Sam Cane and Brad Weber, along with fellow All Blacks Brodie Retallick and Damian McKenzie, who will play his 100th match for the side.
The Blues (2-2) will be eager to bounce back from the Crusaders letdown at Eden Park on Sunday and should have little trouble doing so against Perth-based Western Force, even without an army of test regulars stood down on All Blacks orders.
The Otago Highlanders, who grabbed their first win against the Force last week, will look to build momentum against Fijian Drua in Dunedin on Saturday before winless Moana Pasifika host the Wellington Hurricanes (3-1) in Auckland.
The Melbourne Rebels (1-3) have had their moments but are wobbling as they head into a home clash against the Queensland Reds (2-2), the task made tougher by injuries to in-form loose forward Richard Hardwick and Wallabies utility back Reece Hodge.
(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Peter Rutherford)