The ACT Brumbies chances of preventing an all-New Zealand Super 12 final took a mauling when Matt Giteau was sidelined ahead of a weekend semifinal against the league-leading Auckland Blues.
Giteau had been expected to deputize for pivotal playmaker Steve Larkham in the No. 10 jersey in Saturday's showdown at Eden Park, but was ruled out Thursday after failing to recover from a slight fracture of his left knee.
The Canberra-based Brumbies, Super 12 finalists the last three years and champions in 2001, were already missing try-scoring winger Andrew Walker.
In the other semifinal, defending champs Canterbury hosts Wellington at Christchurch today and the four-time titlists were heavily backed to progress into the decider.
The Crusaders have never lost in eight matches in the knockout phase of the Super 12s.
Coach Robbie Deans made some important tactical changes, recalling experienced All Blacks lock Norm Maxwell -- at the expense of Brad Thorn -- and opting for Aaron Mauger at flyhalf instead of struggling Andrew Mehrtens, a veteran of 66 tests for New Zealand.
Mehrtens missed last week's 28-21 win over the Brumbies with a hand problem and had played only one full match in the campaign. Mauger missed the last two matches with a foot injury, but figured in the nine matches before that.
Mehrtens has ``done a bit of ball work and he seemed to handle that, so he's back in the mix," Deans said. "Obviously he hasn't had a lot of game time, but you can get through to some extent on adrenaline at playoffs time.''
Maxwell's recall should increase the Crusaders' advantage in the lineout, a set piece where the Hurricanes will struggle more than usual without Luke Andrews, who broke his thumb in last week's 29-17 loss to Auckland. He was replaced by Kristian Ormsby.