Two former Super Rugby champions collide to kick off the 2015 season in Australia this Friday, as the Brumbies host the Reds in Canberra.
The hosts suffered semi-final heartache in 2014, while the Reds just never got going in their first year under Richard Graham.
In fact the Brumbies have been nearly there or thereabouts when it comes to the Super Rugby title for the last few seasons, initially under Jake White and since with Laurie Fisher and Stephen Larkham steering the ship.
What was at first a side full of talented youngsters now has become a starting XV to face the Reds with more than ten Wallabies, including six out of the seven backs. The progression of Matt Toomua, Tevita Kuridrani and Henry Speight in particular has been a thrill to watch.
In that sense the Reds are almost where the Brumbies found themselves a few years ago – with a crop of young backs with the potential to go far in the game but who, for now, are raw talents.
Chris Feauai-Sautia is almost the established figure outside of Will Genia for Friday's game when you consider that Samu Kerevi, Chris Kuridrani and Jamie-Jerry Taulagi are still taking their first steps. Another new face, Karmichael Hunt, has been chosen at fly-half with Quade Cooper sidelined. Graham will be hoping they can find a spark. Europe-bound Genia meanwhile makes his 100th Super Rugby appearance.
Brumbies head coach Stephen Larkham: "With our captain David Pocock, we're pleased to see him back on the field after battling succesive knee injuries. I'm looking forward to his performance on Friday. One of the best stories coming out of this team is the return of Ita Vaea. He was pretty much retired this time two years ago, but he's pushed through and everyone at the Brumbies is excited to see him back."
Reds head coach Richard Graham: "I thought Karmichael Hunt controlled the game well last week and had earned the opportunity to start in the flyhalf jersey. He has the confidence and support of the entire team. We all know what he is capable of and his experience at the highest level in multiple codes has set him up well for his Super Rugby debut."
Last time out: The Reds sprung a surprise in this same fixture last year, picking up a 27-17 win after building the foundations in the first half. Lachie Turner and Aidan Toua both grabbed early tries with a Quade Cooper penalty making it 17-9 at the break. Jesse Mogg did get the Brumbies back into the contest, but the full-back's ill-timed error with the ball rolling his way then allowed Feauai-Sautia to pounce for the matchwinning try in a crazy finish.
In the reverse fixture later in the season at Suncorp, the Brumbies this time emerged on top 23-20, with some controversy after Brumbies hooker Stephen Moore went unpunished for a clear punch on Reds back-rower Ed Quirk. The visitors stormed into a 20-3 lead before the Reds clawed their way back, Nic White's penalty though proving to be the difference.
Players to Watch: A new season means plenty of new faces – the Reds after all are fielding seven new players on Saturday. Karmichael Hunt is seen as a major recruit not just for the Reds but potentially the Wallabies, with the Biarritz back arriving after a stint in AFL and tasked with running the show at fly-half. Brumbies lock Rory Arnold won't be hard to spot, as he becomes the tallest Super Rugby player of all time at 208cm, making his debut in the second row.
Samu Kerevi made waves for the Reds at the end of last season with his tricky footwork and spectacular finishes – it'll be interesting to see how he fares in his first full season at just 21. Lastly, all eyes will be nervously on David Pocock to see how the Brumbies captain fares in his comeback from a second knee reconstruction. A phenomenal poacher at the breakdown and inspirational athlete, Pocock has almost been forgotten about with the rise of Michael Hooper, but could be about to embark on a huge year.
Team News: Arnold, James Dargaville and Lausii Taliauli may all make their debuts for the Brumbies on Friday, with the latter pair named on the bench. A real boost for the Brumbies comes in the form of two more replacements – Stephen Moore and Ita Vaea. Moore, like Pocock, has come through a knee reconstruction, while Vaea has been battling life-threatening blood clots for the last two years but is now fit to play.
Sam Talakai, Marco Kotze, Sef Faagase and Adam Korczyk may all make their first starts for the Reds at Super Rugby level, with prop Talakai and lock Kotze straight into the tight five. James O'Connor and Adam Thomson both miss out as they continue to improve their conditioning having arrived with slight knocks. Quade Cooper is still out for a number of weeks.
Form: The Brumbies are a tough prospect to face at home, winning their last eight matches, although their last defeat before that was at home to Reds – a rarity for the Queenslanders who have lost three of the last four in this contest. The Reds' record of just three wins from their last 13 away fixtures does not bode well either. History is not on their side.
Predictions: With a large number of the Reds players untested, especially in those key areas at tighthead prop and lock, it remains to be seen how they'll cope with what is an excellent Brumbies tight five. Given the experience and known talent the Brumbies have at their disposal, it would be wrong not to be back the home side. Brumbies by 9.
2014: Brumbies won 23-20 in Brisbane
2014: Reds won 27-17 in Canberra
2013: 19-19 draw in Brisbane
2013: Brumbies won 24-6 in Canberra
2012: Reds won 13-12 in Canberra
2012: Reds won 20-13 in Brisbane
2011: Brumbies won 22-14 in Brisbane
2011: Reds won 31-25 in Canberra
Brumbies: 15 Robbie Coleman, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Nic White, 8 Jarrad Butler, 7 David Pocock (c), 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Josh Mann-Rea, 1 Scott Sio
Replacements: 16 Stephen Moore, 17 JP Smith, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Jordan Smiler, 20 Ita Vaea, 21 Michael Dowsett, 22 James Dargaville, 23 Lausii Taliauli.
Reds: 15 Jamie-Jerry Taulagi, 14 Chris Kuridrani, 13 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 12 Samu Kerevi, 11 Lachie Turner, 10 Karmichael Hunt, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Curtis Browning, 5 Marco Kotze, 4 James Horwill, 3 Sam Talakai, 2 Saia Fainga’a, 1 James Slipper (c)
Replacements: 16 James Hanson, 17 Ben Daley, 18 Sef Faagase, 19 Ed O’Donoghue, 20 Adam Korczyk, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Duncan Paia’aua, 23 Campbell Magnay
Date: Friday, February 13
Venue: GIO Stadium, Canberra
Kickoff: 19:40 local (08:40 GMT)
Referee: Angus Gardner
Assistant Referees: James Leckie, Will Houston
TMO: Peter Marshall