The Melbourne Rebels feel the wholesale changes to the Crusaders says more about the Kiwi side than a slight on their chances of causing a Super Rugby boilover at AAMI Park on Saturday night.
The unbeaten Crusaders have made 10 changes to their starting line-up as they back their replacements to get the job done against the last-placed Rebels.
Among the changes, All Blacks wing veteran Israel Dagg will make his first start since suffering a knee injury in round three.
Melbourne coach Tony McGahan didn’t feel it was a case of the Christchurch team underestimating his team but more about squad management.
“It’s a hard crawl the Super Rugby and they’ve just got back from South Africa and then had to turn around and play in Fiji and they’ve got another two hard derby games to go,” McGahan said.
“I think it’s unwarranted to read into sides but we will take it and run with it.”
For once this season, McGahan had the luxury of competition for spots with some injured key players returning to action.
Test centre Reece Hodge has recovered well from a bad head-knock suffered early against the Waratahs last Sunday, while five-eighth Jackson Garden-Bachop is also expected to play after also suffering concussion.
Captain Nic Stirzaker returns after four weeks out with an ankle injury while potential Wallabies selections centre Tom English, winger Sefa Naivalu and flanker Colby Fainga’a are also back in the starting side.
“It’s taken 13 or 14 rounds to get to this stage so we’re delighted that everyone’s back,” McGahan said.
“Combinations will still need to come but it’s great to get as close to our best personnel out there.”
McGahan said it was difficult to get a read on how his side would fare as they have historically matched up quite well on the Crusaders, apart from last year when Melbourne had another large injury toll.
“We’ve been competitive traditionally but with what the Crusaders have done and how they’ve played this year they’ve really set the competition alight,” he said.
The Rebels host the Crusaders on Saturday night, kicking off at 7:45pm AEST, LIVE on FOX SPORTS and via RUGBY.com.au RADIO.