Crusaders coach Scott Robertson says a lack of depth in Australian teams is being exposed entering the second half of another lop-sided Super Rugby competition.
The defending champions face the Rebels in Melbourne on Friday and will start heavy favourites, on a five-match winning tear and having regained the services of key playmaker Richie Mo'unga.
Melbourne by contrast have lost their last four and face the reality of having conceded 126 points in their past two matches against the Crusaders.
After opening the season with four rollicking wins, the Rebels have slumped, mirroring the fortunes of Australian sides who promised plenty in the opening weeks.
Asked if their trans-Tasman rivals lack comparative depth, Robertson was succinct: "Yes. There's a headline for you mate."Pushed further, he said there was a reason four Kiwi teams were nestled in the top five on the overall standings.
"The depth of squad is always tested and that's the most critical thing in Super Rugby," he said.
"If you've got the ability to go three or four deep in a position and still find ways to win, you're a chance.
"The next two to three weeks, there's some games where we'll see if there's still a gulf or if it's been bridged by the Australians.
"I know they're hungry and we need Aussie rugby to be really strong."Ironically, a major reason why the Western Force were axed last year was to boost the depth of the other four Australian teams, and the Rebels were major beneficiaries of ex-Force players.
Robertson unveiled six starting changes to his competition leaders from the team who beat the Brumbies 21-8 in Canberra last week.
The most notable is the return of Mo'unga, who suffered multiple fractures to his jaw in round two against the Stormers and needed four plates to aid recovery.
Mo'unga was unable to eat solid food for a week but has regained the 5kg body weight he lost and is ready to mount a bid for All Blacks squad selection to face France in June.
The 23-year-old won't let his mind wander to what would be a likely Test back-up role behind Beauden Barrett.
"It's about playing some good footy and off the back hopefully some rewards come," he said.The Crusaders face the Rebels at AAMI Park on Friday night, kicking off at 7:45pm AEST, broadcast LIVE on FOX SPORTS and RUGBY.com.au radio.