The Brumbies will hope to bounce back from last week's disappointing performance when they face the unpredictable Blues on Friday.
The Brumbies will hope to bounce back from last week's disappointing performance when they take on the unpredictable Blues in Canberra.
Last week's defeat at the Rebels was one that deeply hurt the Canberra franchise as they were hoping to take a stranglehold on the conference.
They were well beaten in the end as the home side lifted their game to a level we regularly only witness at AAMI Park, with Luke Jones standing out in the lock department while full-back Jason Woodward scored one of their two tries along with kicking an impressive eight from eight goals.
In reply the Brumbies enjoyed their usual fast start – Jesse Mogg going over early on – before the momentum slowly went from their game as the Rebels took control. That though is becoming a worrying pattern for Stephen Larkham and Laurie Fisher as they look to go one better than 2013.
Fortunately for the coaching duo, the Waratahs could not capitalise on their loss as later that Saturday they were beaten at the Sharks. This means the Brumbies, who enter the game knowing they have a much-needed bye in the following round, have another opportunity to put daylight between themselves and their closest rivals in Australia, with the Waratahs taking on a depleted Stormers outfit at Newlands in Cape Town, again later in the day.
Losing hooker Stephen Moore is possibly the blow they did not want as the consistent front-row forward is second on their tackles made and carries leaderboard. Furthermore, his line-out throwing is in the 90% bracket while his scrummaging would have hurt a poor Blues set-piece that has won just 71% of its own put-ins. That goes alongside an 80% line-out success so you can see why Sir John Kirwan's backline hasn't been getting enough ball.
Despite their set-piece discrepancies, the Blues are still very much in the mix for a play-off spot and also the New Zealand conference due to the Chiefs dropping points in Pretoria. One main reason why has been the form of Luke Braid, who continues to be a superb link in the back-row. The openside's movement out of the starting XV due to an ongoing injury is as much a blow to the Blues as the absence of Wallaby hooker Moore is to their opponents.
Braid is however expected to feature in the second-half – when the Blues score almost twice as many tries – so if the Brumbies continue with their mid-game slumps, expect a visiting onslaught led by the running threats of George Moala and Charles Piutau that could set up a grandstand finish to what will be an entertaining contest in Canberra. It could all boil down though to which of the teams has sufficiently ironed out their increasingly costly flaws.
Prediction: The jury remains out on the Blues as the tools are there but they fail to show on a consistent basis that they can seriously challenge for the Super Rugby trophy. A win in Canberra would be a sign of progress but we think they will come up short. Brumbies by 5!
Brumbies: 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Joe Tomane, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Robbie Coleman, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Nic White, 8 Ben Mowen (c), 7 Jarrad Butler, 6 Jordan Smiler, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Scott Fardy, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Siliva Siliva, 1 JP Smith.
Replacements: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 Ruan Smith, 18 Ruaidhri Murphy, 19 Jack Whetton, 20 Lachlan McCaffrey, 21 Conrad Hoffmann, 22 Andrew Smith, 23 Christian Lealiifano.
Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 George Moala, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Simon Hickey, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Steven Luatua, 7 Brendon O'Connor, 6 Jerome Kaino (c), 5 Hayden Triggs, 4 Liaki Moli, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 James Parsons, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Angus Ta'avao, 19 Jordan Manihera, 20 Luke Braid, 21 Sonatane Takulua, 22 Francis Saili, 23 Benji Marshall.
Date: Friday, April 4
Kick-off: 19.40 local (09:40 BST, 08.40 GMT)
Venue: Canberra Stadium
Referee: Rohan Hoffmann (Australia)
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), Damien Mitchelmore (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)