Preview: Brumbies v Waratahs

Date published: April 30 2015

Top spot in the Australian conference is on the line as the Waratahs head down the east coast to face the Brumbies in Canberra on Friday.

The defending Super Rugby champions trail the team from the capital by four points but have a game in hand, making this a potential turning point in the season for both sides.

Indeed, defeat for the 'Tahs will leave the champs stuck mid-table and scrambling for a play-off berth with their tour to South Africa still to come.

The Waratahs have convincingly won the last three meetings between these sides with the Brumbies averaging under ten points per game in those fixtures.

But all three of those games were in Sydney and the Waratahs' record in Canberra is not a good one having won there just twice in 11 visits. The Brumbies have won their last three home games against the ‘Tahs.

In fact, the Brumbies have won 12 of their last 13 home games, however their last two defeats in Canberra both came at the hands of Australian teams.

The game is being billed as a showdown for the Wallaby openside flanker berth as former national captain David Pocock faces off with the incumbent in both those roles, Michael Hooper.

There have been suggestions that Pocock could switch to blindside to allow both players to feature in the World Cup starting XV. Australia and Waratahs coach Michael Cheika insists that Friday's match will by no means be a selection decider.

"We look at it a little differently to commentators, sevens rarely cross paths in a game," said Cheika on Thursday.

"Both players have been playing very good football and you'll be commentating on that for a while because the two lads are both so consistent with the quality of the way they play their game at, they're on it every week.

"I can assure you, what happens tomorrow will not decide who's selected. There's more than one game involved in any selection process."

Using contrasting styles, the Brumbies have been scoring from close quarters, using their set piece as a platform while the
'Tahs have become masters of striking from long range.

The Brumbies are the only side yet to score a try from possession that originated within their own half but have scored the most (18) when starting out with the ball in the opposition 22.

The ‘Tahs have scored 13 tries when starting with the ball from outside the opposition 22, a competition high.

The last time these team met:  The Waratahs produced one their best performances of the season to date in Round Six, with Israel Folau at the heart of a 28-13 victory as he scored one of three tries for the home side in a bruising derby.

Players to watch: Back in the engine room after a week off for compassionate leave, Sam Carter will bring his bulk and class to a Brumbies pack that has been firing on all cylinders this season, with the best lineout and one of the top scrums in the competition. After such a dominant showing against the Highlanders last weekend, the Waratahs will be wary of what Carter and the seven guys around him are capable of when it comes to the set-piece and rolling maul. Jesse Mogg also caught the eye last week on only his second game of the year.

He apologised profusely for his homophobic slur during the last match between these two sides, but Jacques Potgieter will still be under the spotlight as the Waratahs face the Brumbies for the first time since that incident. The Springbok forward started to show glimpses of his best form last weekend with some powerful carries and his team will need him to be abrasive once more in Canberra.

The battle between Pocock and Hooper will obviously take centre stage but there are plenty of other key duels lined up for Friday, including at outside centre where Wallaby backs Tevita Kuridrani and Adam Ashley-Cooper go one-on-one. The ‘Tahs have looked instantly a better side with Ashley-Cooper back to provide plenty of creativity in midfield, while Kuridrani remains a devastating carrier if provided with enough quality possession. Michael Cheika might have his Super Rugby cap on this weekend but he’ll take note if Kuridrani wins this match-up.

Team news:  Carter and Ben Alexander return to the Brumbies starting side. Their elevation sends Blake Enever and Ruan Smith to the bench while Rory Arnold drops out of the matchday 23. On the bench James Dargaville makes an early return from injury. Cheika has made two changes to the Waratahs team as Wycliff Palu and Jacques Potgieter return to the back row.

Form: After winning four of their first five games the Brumbies have slipped to just two victories from their last five games, although last week’s impressive win over the Highlanders prevented a three-game losing run. Meanwhile the Waratahs have lost only three of their nine matches in 2015 and have a game in hand over their Australian Conference rivals, and have won four of their last five matches including a 18-16 success over the Rebels last week.

The Waratahs' form on the road has been very good though, winning six of their last seven away from home, with five of these wins coming by margins of at least 10 points. The reigning champions have won two in a row but have not won three straight in 2015.

Predictions: A tough on to call considering the Waratahs form in Wellington a fortnight ago, but the Brumbies' record on home soil to difficult to argue against. Brumbies by seven points.

Previous results:

2015: Waratahs won 28-13 in Sydney
2014: Waratahs won  26-8 in Sydney
2014: Waratahs won  39-8 in Sydney
2014: Brumbies won 28-23 in Canberra

The teams:

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

Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Peter Betham, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Jacques Potgieter, 5 Dave Dennis (c), 4 Will Skelton, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Mitch Chapman, 20 Stephen Hoiles, 21 Pat McCutcheon, 22 Brendan McKibbin, 23 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 24 Matt Carraro.

Date: Friday, 1 May
Venue: GIO Stadium, Canberra
Kick-off:  19:40 local, (09:40 GMT, 21:40 NZST, 11:40 SAST)
Referee: Glen Jackson
Assistant referees: James Leckie, Frederico Anselmi
TMO: George Ayoub