Preview: Brumbies v Rebels

Date published: April 17 2015

A patched-up Brumbies side will look to bounce back from last week's narrow loss to the Blues when they host the Rebels in Canberra.

The number of top Wallaby backs absent for the Brumbies this Saturday has gone from concerning in recent weeks to currently disastrous, with Joe Tomane, Tevita Kuridrani and Matt Toomua along with James Dargaville and Jesse Mogg all ruled out through injury.

On top of that, Nic White has been dropped to the bench by Stephen Larkham in a surpising move as the young Michael Dowsett looks to make an impact.

Last week's trip to Auckland against the winless Blues always looked like a tricky fixture and although they had the chance to win it, when White's penalty fell short after the hooter, the Brumbies arguably didn't deserve to.

They remain top of the Australian Conference and will stay there win or lose after Round 10 given they hold a seven-point advantage over the Waratahs, but Larkham will have been concerned by his side's patchy form and the growing number of players in the treatment room.

Tactically too the Brumbies have scope to open up their game, because despite scoring 22 tries so far (the third-highest in the competition) their number of carries, clean breaks, defenders beaten and metres made are hardly eyecatching. Reliance on the power of their pack and the kicking game of White, Toomua and Christian Lealiifano has created success before, but not consistently in 2015.

Their main weapon however has been the lineout, with 18 of their 22 five-pointers coming off the set-piece which holds a 90.8 percent success rate. 

By contrast, no side was a worse record in that area than the Rebels, who are losing one of every five lineouts on their own throw at 78.2 percent.

That statistic comes as a surprise considering the great seasons that several members involved in the lineout – Pat Leafa, Luke Jones, Lopeti Timani – are all having.

The 2015 Rebels are a far more competitive group than the recent versions which we've seen struggle in Super Rugby over the last few years, with the younger guns like Nic Stirzaker and Timani stepping up, along with of course Sean McMahon.

It's no coincidence that the Rebels are both winning games and top of the breakdown stats with a 96 percent success rate when you consider the work of McMahon alongside Scott Higginbotham in the back row.

The win over the Crusaders on the opening weekend will probably prove to be a season-high moment but there have also been disappointments for the Rebels in narrow losses to the Brumbies and Lions at home by less than seven points. Had they won both then we'd been talking about them as challengers to lead the Australian Conference.

2015 feels like a big year to make that leap as the young talent develops and the Rebels aspire to match the rumblings that the Force sent out in 2014 when they just slipped out of the playoffs.

However, getting revenge over the Brumbies in Canberra will be highly difficult if the Rebels don't cut down the mistakes and hold their own at the lineout, even with their hosts' high number of injuries.

The last time these teams met: Five penalties from Mike Harris kept the Rebels in touch, but tries from Tevita Kuridrani and Jarrad Butler plus the boot of Christian Lealiifano were enough for the Brumbies to unconvincingly squeeze home by 20-15 back in February.

Players to watch: New faces aren't in short supply for the Brumbies as Nigel Ah Wong gets the start at inside centre following Lealiifano's switch to fly-half. The Wellington-born Ah Wong never got a chance with the Reds before heading to Japan with the Coca Cola West Red Sparks. Michael Dowsett too has to perform if he wants to keep White on the bench. 

As for the Rebels, Luke Jones has been a towering presence at second row with an engine that doesn't seem to run out of steam. Only 24, Jones has been with the Rebels since their inception and is now playing his best rugby. Sefanaia Naivalu stormed the stats in the Rebels' last game two weeks ago, so should keep the Brumbies defence busy.

Team news: Dowsett comes in at scrum-half for the Brumbies as injuries to Scott Sio, Tevita Kuridrani, Matt Toomua and James Dargaville have forced head coach Larkham to rethink selections. Lausii Taliauli is on the wing, Nigel Ah Wong at inside-centre and JP Smith at prop.

Rebels head coach Tony McGahan meanwhile has shown faith in the 23 who defeated the Reds at AAMI Park a fortnight ago. Tamati Ellison will make his 100th Super Rugby appearance.

Form: The Rebels have failed to post back-to-back wins this year, something they haven't done since Rounds 14 and 15 in 2013. The Brumbies meanwhile won four of their first five matches but have since lost two of their last three. The Brumbies have also only conceded 99 points through eight games so far this year, the lowest in the competition.

Prediction: Just like their earlier contest in 2015, we expect the Brumbies to be given a thorough examination by the Rebels but eventually pick up the win, just. Brumbies by 7.

Previous results:

2015: Brumbies won 20-15 in Melbourne
2014: Brumbies won 37-10 in Canberra
2014: Rebels won 32-24 in Melbourne
2013: Brumbies won 39-17 in Canberra
2013: Brumbies won 30-15 in Melbourne
2012: Brumbies won 29-17 in Melbourne

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

Rebels: 15 Mike Harris, 14 Tom English, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Sefanaia Naivalu, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Nic Stirzaker, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Sean McMahon, 5 Lopeti Timani, 4 Luke Jones, 3 Paul Alo-Emile, 2 Pat Leafa, 1 Toby Smith
Replacements: 16 Tom Sexton, 17 Cruze Ah-Nau, 18 Tim Metcher, 19 Cadeyrn Neville, 20 Colby Fainga'a, 21 Jordy Reid, 22 Luke Burgess, 23 Bryce Hegarty

Date: Saturday, April 18
Venue: GIO Stadium, Canberra
Kick-off: 19:40 local (21:40 NZST, 11:40 SAST, 09:40 GMT)
Referee: Angus Gardner
Assistant Referees: James Leckie, Fredrico Anselmi
TMO: George Ayoub