The Reds know they simply must beat the Brumbies in Canberra if they’re to keep alive their slim hopes of making the Super Rugby play-offs.
It’s been a dismal campaign to date for Nick Stiles’ men as after a narrow win over the Sharks, they have lost five matches on the spin, which leaves them five points off Australia’s pace-setters, the Brumbies. But with just two wins on the board themselves that phrase is used loosely.
Even at this early stage of the season it is worrying to see Australia’s leading side having three points fewer than New Zealand’s bottom outfit. But that’s how things stand and it could get worse while the cloud of uncertainty continues to hover above several of their franchises.
This therefore is a chance for the Brumbies and Reds to make a statement and the neutral will hope the pressure both on and off the field doesn’t translate into a poor spectacle. Drawing fans to their respective stadiums is a must, not just for Australia but also Super Rugby.
On to the match itself and on paper the Brumbies have something of a hoodoo over their Queensland rivals, winning each of their last four games against the Reds. Factor in the Reds having lost their last 11 fixtures away from home – the last time they won on the road was in Round 16. 2015 against the Force – and the Brumbies seemingly hold all the aces going into this derby.
Due to the absence of Quade Cooper and Karmichael Hunt, the Reds require a special showing from Samu Kerevi, who has beaten 28 defenders, including four in the last round, which is the most of any player this season. But with the Brumbies being the most efficient tacklers of any team in the competition, boasting a success rate of 88 percent for the year thus far, both Kerevi and the Reds will have their work cut out in Canberra as they look to salvage their Super Rugby campaign before it’s too late.
The last time the teams met: It was a 43-24 victory for the Brumbies in Canberra last year as the hosts came from behind to win the Round 15 clash. Andrew Ready got the game’s first try for the Reds before Stephen Moore responded and Ben Alexander made it 15-10 at the break. Following the interval Moore powered over again off the back of a maul but the Reds wouldn’t roll over as Duncan Paia’aua hit back to make it 22-17 on the hour. But further tries from Christian Lealiifano, Tomás Cubelli and Lausii Taliauli assured the Brumbies of the victory.
Players to watch: Last year’s meeting saw three tries scored via the driving maul so keep an eye on both hookers, Robbie Abel and Stephen Moore on Saturday. Moore, now going up against several long-time team-mates, must lead the Reds at his former stomping ground as he knows the Brisbane outfit simply cannot afford another defeat to their Australian rivals. Abel meanwhile has been getting an extended run in the side due to Joshua Mann-Rea’s injury and the 27-year-old – in his debut Super Rugby season – will relish going up against Moore this week.
Team news: Flanker Scott Fardy will lead out the Brumbies for the first time on Saturday as one of three changes to the starting XV. Lock Rory Arnold is recalled to the starting side in place of regular skipper Sam Carter, who is rotated out of the side. Arnold partners Blake Enever whilst prop Scott Sio makes a first start of the season with Nic Mayhew reverting to the replacements. There is one change in the back-line as well with ex-Reds utility-back Tom Banks handed a Brumbies debut on the left wing with James Dargaville named on the bench.
Reds head coach Nick Stiles has made two changes to his starting line-up as in the forwards, the return of prop Sef Fa’agase from a calf injury has prompted a shuffle in the front-row. Fa’agase will start at loosehead prop, with Sam Talakai returning to his regular position of tighthead and Taniela Tupou shifted to the reserves. The only other change to the XV sees Lachlan Maranta make his debut at full-back.
Form: The Brumbies’ only two wins have come against Australian opposition, with defeats to the Crusaders, Sharks and Highlanders souring what has been an average start to the campaign. However, they sit on top of their Conference as their fellow countrymen have been poor, notably the Reds as they’ve lost five on the spin since their first round win over the Sharks. It is fast becoming win or bust for them.
Prediction: The hosts should be too strong on their home patch and the Reds missing key men does not help their cause. Brumbies by eight.
2016: Brumbies won 43-24 in Canberra
2015: Brumbies won 29-0 in Brisbane
2015: Brumbies won 47-3 in Canberra
2014: Brumbies won 23-20 in Brisbane
2014: Reds won 17-27 in Canberra
2013: Draw 19-19 in Brisbane
2013: Brumbies won 24-6 in Canberra
2012: Reds won 12-13 in Canberra
Brumbies: 15 Aidan Toua, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Tom Banks, 10 Wharenui Hawera, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Jordan Smiler, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Scott Fardy (c), 5 Blake Enever, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Robbie Abel, 1 Scott Sio
Replacements: 16 Saia Fainga’a, 17 Nic Mayhew, 18 Ben Alexander, 19 Tom Staniforth, 20 Jarrad Butler, 21 De Wet Roos, 22 Andrew Smith, 23 James Dargaville
Reds: 15 Lachlan Maranta, 14 Chris Kuridrani, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Duncan Paia’aua, 11 Eto Nabuli, 10 Jake McIntyre, 9 James Tuttle, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 George Smith, 6 Adam Korczyk, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Sam Talakai, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 Sef Fa’agase
Replacements: 16 Alex Mafi, 17 Kirwan Sanday, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Izack Rodda, 20 Hendrik Tui, 21 Moses Sorovi, 22 Hamish Stewart, 23 Izaia Perese
Date: Saturday, April 8
Venue: GIO Stadium, Canberra
Kick-off: 19:45 local (09:45 GMT)
Referee: Nick Briant (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Paul Williams (New Zealand), James Leckie (Australia)
TMO: Ian Smith (Australia)