The two main challengers for the Australian conference meet in Canberra as the Brumbies host the Reds with 2012 on their mind.
The two main challengers for the Australian conference collide at Canberra Stadium on Saturday as the Brumbies host the Reds with 2012 on their mind.
It was a final-day loss to the Blues that deprived Jake White's men top spot in their group and ultimately they missed out on the play-off positions.
For the Reds they had a regular-season campaign that didn't produce a great deal of tries and in all honesty they didn't deserve to retain the title.
This season they have pivot Quade Cooper back and fully-fit but he's missing Will Genia alongside him for the opening rounds while Scott Higginbotham resides in Melbourne from here on in. That latter's switch is a blow to the cause as the big flanker was their second highest try-scorer during 2012.
Much will rest on the shoulders of young openside Liam Gill while James Horwill will soon return to the coalface, looking for form before the B&I Lions arrive. Horwill has already advised Red fly-half Cooper to do his talking on the pitch this season, which is a stark reminder that he won't tolerate nonsense.
Something the Brumbies are not is overconfident. What impresses about this Canberra franchise is their team spirit and collective drive, which was typified last year in a season when few thought they would threaten. We were all wrong as fresh faces like Jesse Mogg, Sam Carter and the ever-improving finisher Henry Speight caught the eye. While they lose another excellent prospect, Michael Hooper, they pick up a seasoned flanker in David Pocock.
The picture is a little different at the Suncorp Stadium, as the Reds go into their season opener without experienced players Radike Samo and Anthony Fainga'a, while they appear to be a tad light in squad depth. Running threat Luke Morahan is also absent this week so the full-back spot goes to Mike Harris in a side that enters the match as underdog. Aidan Toua will wear the number 13 shirt in the absence of Fainga'a while Jake Schatz is at eight.
What the Reds do possess in their corner, however, is the return of that man Cooper from his extended absence, which coincides with the addition of Richard Graham to their coaching team. Consequently, they are in some ways an unknown quantity from 2012 with the Brumbies now the most settled side hailing from Australia. How things change in twelve months ahead of a fixture some are even, at this early stage, predicting to be an eight-pointer.
Key battle: The battle at openside between David Pocock and Liam Gill excites. Pocock, 24, is where Gill, 20, wants to be while Michael Hooper will continue to knock on the Wallaby door. Australia is truly blessed with opensides right now – they have been for the last fifteen years – and this personal contest will be of close interest to head coach Robbie Deans. But with Brumbies coach Jake White having this week put his flanker in the same breath as Jonah Lomu and Richie McCaw, the favourite to take the plaudits on Saturday has to be Pocock, surely?
Prediction: We are on the Brumbies bandwagon for this and can't see their pack and wide threat coming out on the losing side. Brumbies by 8!
Brumbies: 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Andrew Smith, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Clyde Rathbone, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Nic White, 8 Ben Mowen, 7 David Pocock, 6 Peter Kimlin, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Scott Fardy, 3 Dan Palmer, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Ben Alexander.
Replacements: 16 Siliva Siliva, 17 Ruaidhri Murphy, 18 Colby Faingaa, 19 Fotu Auelua, 20 Ian Prior, 21 Joseph Tomane, 22 Robbie Coleman.
Reds: 15 Mike Harris, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Aidan Toua, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Ben Lucas, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Eddie Quirk, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Adam Wallace-Harrison, 3 James Slipper (c), 2 Saia Faingaa, 1 Greg Holmes.
Replacements: 16 Albert Anae, 17 James Hanson, 18 Ed O'Donoghue, 19 Jarrad Butler, 20 Nick Frisby, 21 Jono Lance, 22 Chris F'Sautia.
Date: Saturday, February 16
Kick-off: 19:40 local (08:40 GMT)
Venue: Canberra Stadium
Referee: Andrew Lees (Australia)