The NSW Waratahs are bracing for the full force of the mighty Crusaders as the defending champions steel themselves for their first Super Rugby appearance since the Christchurch tragedy.
In a mark of respect to the 50 lives lost a day earlier, the Crusaders cancelled last week's scheduled clash with the Highlanders and are planning a low-key captain's run in Sydney on the eve of Saturday night's match against the Waratahs at the SCG.
Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson boasts a special insight into what drives the competition's most successful franchise, having won four titles at the Crusaders as a player before being Robbie Deans' assistant coach when the club reigned again in 2008.
He knows how much rugby means to the people of Christchurch and expects the back-to-back champions to show a fierce resolve in the wake of the deadly shootings that rocked the city.
"Obviously there's going to be a lot of emotion flying around," Gibson said on Thursday.
"It's a huge tragedy that's occurred in Christchurch.
"But once the whistle goes I'm sure it'll be back to business for them.
"Rugby is one avenue where it can be an outlet beyond just the sporting and society confine, so I think you'll see the team really going out and playing for a purpose."
Gibson has named Karmichael Hunt on the bench in the dual international's return from a hamstring strain that ruled him out of last week's 19-13 loss to the Brumbies.
Veteran halfback Nick Phipps will make his first starting appearance of the season, having overcome a calf injury sustained during a Wallabies camp, with Jake Gordon relegated to the bench.
Continuing his rotation policy, Gibson has handed Cam Clark a wing spot at the expense of Curtis Rona, while the forward pack remains unchanged, though exciting back-rower Michael Wells returns to the match-day 23 after representing the Australian sevens team during the opening six rounds of the World Series.
The Crusaders are aiming to extend their record run to 20 straight Super Rugby wins, but the Waratahs are drawing inspiration from - rather than lamenting - last year's 31-29 loss in Christchurch after leading 29-0 early in the second half.
"We took a lot of out that game," Gibson said.
"We put a lost of pressure on them for the first 50 minutes, but weren't able to sustain that consistent effort.
"So this year we know that we need to do that for the full 80 and really be at our very best to compete in this game."
WARATAHS: Israel Folau, Cam Clark, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Kurtley Beale, Alex Newsome, Bernard Foley, Nick Phipps, Jack Dempsey, Michael Hooper (capt), Ned Hanigan, Rob Simmons, Jed Holloway, Sekope Kepu, Damien Fitzpatrick, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Reserves: Andrew Tuala, Rory O'Connor, Chris Talakai, Lachlan Swinton, Michael Wells, Jake Gordon, Mack Mason, Karmichael Hunt.
Australian Associated Press