Wellington - All Blacks Dan Carter and Israel Dagg will miss the Crusaders' Super 15 derby against Waikato Chiefs this weekend as the seven-time champions' tough start threatens to worsen.
Injuries to fly-half Carter and explosive fullback Dagg, plus New Zealand prop Owen Franks' suspension for striking, have caused headaches for the Crusaders in the Kiwi derby.
The Crusaders dug deep last week to beat Highlanders and bounce back from their shock opening loss to Melbourne Rebels, when Carter limped off and is yet to recover.
But the win came at a cost, with Dagg straining his left thigh and fiery prop Owen Franks suspended for two weeks after a forearm smash on front-rower Josh Honeck.
The depleted Crusaders now face a Chiefs side buoyed by the return of code-hopper Sonny Bill Williams as he looks to cement his place in the All Blacks' World Cup squad.
Williams sat out last week's win against the Brumbies with late injury flare-up after an inspiring display in the season-opening victory against the Auckland Blues.
All Blacks flanker Sam Cane and world player of the year Brodie Retallick in the second row also return for the Chiefs on Saturday as coach Dave Rennie shuffles his pack.
Elsewhere Queensland Reds will hope controversial back James O'Connor can help draw a line under a torrid week for the team when he makes his long-awaited debut.
With Karmichael Hunt unavailable following cocaine claims, O'Connor, who also has a chequered past, can repay the Reds' faith against Highlanders after recovering from a knee problem.
Meanwhile South Africa's unbeaten table-toppers Stormers will be wary of an ambush in Johannesburg for the second season in a row when they face the Golden Lions.
The Stormers, who jointly lead the standings with Wellington Hurricanes, were chastened 34-10 by the Lions last year and are on their guard for Saturday's clash, despite the Johannesburg team losing both their matches so far.
"They shocked us in that first game of Super Rugby last year," said Stormers attack coach Robbie Fleck.
"We thought they'd come with a big running game, and they suddenly came with a decent kicking strategy and put us under immense pressure."
The Stormers will be without powerhouse flank Rynhardt Elstadt, who broke his leg in last week's 27-16 win against the Auckland Blues at Newlands and is out for four months.
Co-leaders the Hurricanes are also looking to preserve their winning start on the road when they visit Force in Perth on Friday.
The Hurricanes have made five changes to the side that beat the Northern Bulls 17-13 in Pretoria, completing a successful two-game South African tour.
Regular captain and centre Conrad Smith is being rested, making way for Rey Lee-Lo to return alongside All Black Ma'a Nonu after missing the Pretoria win with a hip injury.
Springbok wing Cornal Hendricks will make his first start of the Super season when the Central Cheetahs host the Auckland Blues in Bloemfontein on Friday.
Hendricks, one of the stars for the Boks last season, missed out on his team's impressive first-up win against the Sharks.
Blues captain Jerome Kaino will bring up a century of Super games against the Cheetahs, the 35th New Zealander to reach the landmark.
The Brumbies are bracing for a tough match against the Rebels in Melbourne on Saturday. In this weekend's remaining game, the Northern Bulls host the Sharks.
15 Tom Marshall, 14 Bryce Heem, 13 Charlie
Ngatai, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Augustine
Pulu, 8 Liam Messam (captain), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Mike Fitzgerald, 5 Brodie
Retallick, 4 Matt Symons, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Pauliasi Manu
Substitutes: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Siate
Tokolahi, 18 Mitchell Graham, 19 Johan Bardoul, 20 Sean Polwart, 21 Brad Weber,
22 Damian McKenzie, 23 Seta Tamanivalu
Tom Taylor, 14 Robbie Fruean, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11
Johnny McNicholl, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Jordan Taufua, 7
Matt Todd (captain), 6 Richie McCaw, 5 Luke Romano, 4 Scott Barrett, 3
Nepo Laulala, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Wyatt Crockett
16 Codie Taylor, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Alex Hodgman, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Luke
Whitelock, 21 Andy Ellis, 22 Nathaniel Apa, 23 Nafi Tuitavake