Preview: Brumbies v Bulls

Date published: May 28 2015

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Fresh off their bye week, the Brumbies will be looking to re-take their top spot in the Australian Conference when they tackle the Bulls in Canberra.

A nasty run of injuries to their backline appears to have come to a welcome end for Stephen Larkham's group, who have so far picked up a surprisingly low seven wins from their 13 games this season.

Packed with international talent and having last reached the Super Rugby Final back in 2013 under Jake White, their aspirations are clearly high, which makes picking up the momentum going into the closing weeks all the more important.

Coming into Friday's game with a tournament-high five losing bonus points shows just how many tight contests the Brumbies have lost in 2015.

It's a trend they cannot afford to continue if they wanted to make the knockout stages again this season.

Currently clinging on to the third and final wildcard spot, every match is of huge importance for the Canberra-based outfit, as Nic White discussed earlier this week.

"If we lose one, we drop one and I'd say finals is probably out of contention. It's huge for us, every game is a grand final," White told the Canberra Times.

"I think we've been dealing with that sort of mentality pretty well, it was the same for the Lions game."

They are banking on their forwards for success this year with most of their attacking stats registering down the bottom yet they have scored the fourth-highest amount of tries on 34. The Brumbies lineout by contrast has the best percentage in Super Rugby on 91.3 percent.

That stronghold should be tested by the Bulls, who have won the most lineout steals this season, but the visitors will be without lineout mastermind Victor Matfield for this one.

These two have made the fewest offloads in the competition, pointing towards a game played out at close quarters even though both possess dynamic backs.

Much like the Brumbies, the Bulls have a great chance of making the play-offs given they sit only three points behind South African Conference leaders the Stormers.

However with the Lions also in the mix, every week is vital now for Frans Ludeke's side. One defeat may end their hopes for the season, but for Ludeke nothing has changed.

"It is still our goal to try to manage two wins. The New Zealand leg was not successful; the next game against the Brumbies makes it more crucial," he told TimesLIVE.

The last time these teams met: It was one way traffic for the Bulls last year in Pretoria as they thrashed the Brumbies 44-23, as Jono Ross grabbed two tries and Jacques-Louis Potgieter scored six penalties.

Players to watch: In the absence of Matfield, Friday will be a big game for Brumbies lock Sam Carter as the Wallaby looks to go over 50 lineout takes for the season. Carter is also a threat when it comes to stealing opposition ball, so if the Brumbies can disrupt the Bulls at their source then it could be a long evening for the men from Pretoria. Another strong outing wouldn't do Carter's international chances any harm either with plenty of Australian locks in good form.

On the other side the Bulls have rung the changes and one of the new faces is Arno Botha. The dynamic flanker had his season wiped out by injury in 2014 but is a massive threat at the breakdown where he constantly creates turnover opportunities and is adept at slowing the ball down. In a battle with Scott Fardy and David Pocock, Botha can really cause them problems.

Team news: The Brumbies welcome Wallaby prop Scott Sio back from a two month stint on the sidelines for Friday's clash. Matt Toomua could not prove his fitness after suffering a left ankle injury in Johannesburg earlier this month and is out for at least one more week. Robbie Coleman returns to the starting side to face the Bulls, bringing Nigel Ah Wong onto the bench in his place.

Meanwhile for the Bulls, Frans Ludeke has made six changes. There are two changes in the backline as Jurgen Visser starts at full-back ahead of Jesse Kriel. Visser joined the squad on Monday in place of injured Jan Serfontein and with Kriel recovering from a knee contusion, Ludeke opted for the 30 Super Rugby cap full-back to start. Serfontein has been replaced by Burger Odendaal in the midfield.

In the pack, there is a return for Adriaan Strauss, who was rested last weekend, with Callie Visagie moving to the bench, as well as a first start on tour for Grant Hattingh, who replaces Matfield at lock. Matfield is rested in accordance with the SARU agreement. Dean Greyling rotates with Trevor Nyakane at loosehead and Botha swaps places with Jacques du Plessis at the side of the scrum in the other change to the pack.

Form: The Brumbies had lost five of their last seven before defeating the Lions during their final tour match two weeks ago in Johannesburg. Four of those mentioned losses were by five points or less, illustrating how competitive they have been at times this season without getting the results. No team has conceded fewer points this year than the Brumbies with 188.

The Bulls have lost their last two matches on tour in New Zealand to the Chiefs and Blues, halting the play-off run in the process, but their season started with two straight losses before four wins in a row put them in control. 

Predictions: Desperation for the Brumbies and a tough run on the road may just swing this one the way of the home side, in what should be a battle dominated by both packs. Brumbies by six!

Previous results:

2014: Bulls won 44-23 in Pretoria
2013: Brumbies won 26-23 in Pretoria (semi-final)

2013: Brumbies won 23-20 in Canberra

2012: Brumbies won 36-34 in Pretoria

The teams:

Brumbies: 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Robbie Coleman, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Nic White, 8 Ita Vaea, 7 David Pocock, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 Allan Alaalatoa, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Jordan Smiler, 20 Jarrad Butler, 21 Michael Dowsett, 22 Nigel Ah Wong, 23 James Dargaville.

Bulls: 15 Jurgen Visser, 14 Francois Hougaard, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Pierre Spies (c), 7 Arno Botha, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Callie Visagie, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 Jacques du Plessis, 20 Lappies Labuschagne, 21 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 22 Travis Ismaiel, 23 Jesse Kriel.

Date: Friday, May 29
Venue: GIO Stadium, Canberra
Kick-off: 19:40 local (09:40 GMT, 21:40 NZST, 11:40 SAST)
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Assistant Referees: Rohan Hoffmann, Ed Martin
TMO: Ian Smith

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