The Brumbies will be a desperate side when they take on the Western Force in their Australian derby in Canberra on Friday.
After two rounds of matches, the home side are still winless although they picked up losing bonus points in their defeats away to the Crusaders and at home to the Sharks.
Head coach Stephen Larkham and his charges will, however, be quietly confident of securing that elusive win against their rivals from Australia’s west coast as the two-time champions have dominated this fixture in recent years.
The Brumbies have won the last six meetings between these sides with the Force’s last victory registered in 2013, in Perth. All of those six victories, were by more than 12 points.
Brumbies captain Sam Carter has made 35 tackles this season, the most of any player and seven more than the next-best Australian based player, team-mate Josh Mann-Rea (28).
Although the Force have traditionally been amongst the strugglers in the competition, they have started 2017 well and earned a bonus-point in their loss to the Waratahs in their opener before beating the Reds in their second match.
Remarkably, that result means they will be aiming for back-to-back victories in Super Rugby for the first time since May 2014.
Despite being the underdogs, Western Force head coach Dave Wessels said his team has worked hard in the lead up to this game and looks forward to taking on the Brumbies.
“It’s a massive challenge this week,” he said.
“We haven’t beaten the Brumbies since 2013 and we’ve not won back-to-back games since 2014 and although we were very pleased to win our first game at home last week against the Reds, we know we have a lot of improvements to make.
“The Brumbies have been very competitive in their first two games of the year, so we know the challenge that awaits us in Canberra.”
The last time these teams met: The Brumbies claimed a 24-10 victory in Canberra last year in the last round of the league phase of the competition. The result secured them a place in the play-offs. Interestingly, the half-time score was the same as the end result. For the Brumbies, Tevita Kuridrani and Matt Toomua dotted down and they were also awarded a penalty try. The Force’s only try was scored by Ben Tapuai.
Players to watch: For the Brumbies, midfielder Tevita Kuridrani has hit the ground running with two impressive displays in their previous matches against the Crusaders and Sharks. Although they lost both those matches, the Wallaby did well with ball in hand especially against the Sharks and scored an important try in that encounter after running a superb line.
In Chance Peni, the Force have a dangerous attacker, who showed against the Reds that he is difficult to stop when he finds the ball in space. The Rugby League convert was rewarded with a fine try in that clash and the Brumbies defence will have to be at their best to keep him in check.
Team news: Brumbies head coach Stephen Larkham has made two changes to his starting XV for this clash. Prop Ben Alexander and flanker Ben Hyne will start their first games of the 2017 Super Rugby season in place of Nic Mayhew, who drops to the bench, and Scott Fardy respectively. The fixture sees a return to the team for Hyne who made his debut against the Reds last season but saw his maiden appearance turn sour when he suffered an injury early in the game, curtailing his involvement. Alexander, meanwhile, will make his 133rd Brumbies appearance lining up in the front row alongside Josh Mann-Rea and Allan Alaalatoa. Young half-back pairing of Joe Powell and Wharenui Hawera continue their burgeoning combination and Kyle Godwin links up in midfield alongside Tevita Kuridrani. Up front the hardworking Chris Alcock and Jordan Smiler form a back row combination alongside Hyne, whilst Rory Arnold and skipper Sam Carter start in the second row. Blake Enever comes onto the bench with Larkham opting for a 6-2 split in favour of forwards amongst the replacements.
Meanwhile, Force boss Dave Wessels has made several changes to his matchday squad. Ross Haylett-Petty comes into the second row, as Wallaby lock Adam Coleman is sidelined with a calf injury. Pek Cowan, Tetera Faulkner and Richard Hardwick all come back into the starting XV after impressive performances off the bench in the last week’s win over the Reds. Hardwick comes in for Brynard Stander at number eight. Stander shifts to the blindside flank where he takes over from Ross Haylett-Petty who wore the number six jersey against the Reds in Perth. Onehunga Havili Kaufusi is in line to make his Super Rugby debut, while new recruit Robbie Coleman has earned his spot on the bench and could make his Force debut against his former club.
Form: The Brumbies have lost both their previous matches this year. They delivered an impressive performance in their opener against the Crusaders in Christchurch but suffered a narrow 17-13 loss. In their next match, at home against the Sharks, they started well and led 15-3 at one stage but allowed the visitors to take a 22-15 lead late in the game, before a converted Tevita Kuridrani try drew them level. The Sharks secured a 27-22 win with the last play of the game when Lukhanyo Am scored a try in injury time.
The Force looked competitive in their opener against the Waratahs in Sydney but threw away a 13-9 half-time lead and eventually lost 19-13. They finished their next match – against the Reds in Perth – like they started their first one and after trailing 19-12 early in the second half, fought back to claim a deserved 26-19 win.
Prediction: Although the Force looked solid in their come-from-behind win over the Reds last week, facing the Brumbies in Canberra will be a bridge too far. Brumbies to win by seven points!
2016: Brumbies won 24-10 in Canberra
2016: Brumbies won 31-14 in Perth
2015: Brumbies won 33-20 in Perth
2015: Brumbies won 27-15 in Canberra
2014: Brumbies won 47-25 in Canberra
2014: Brumbies won 27-14 in Perth
2013: Force won 21-15 in Perth
2013: Brumbies won 41-7 in Canberra
2012: Brumbies won 27-18 in Perth
2012: Brumbies won 19-17 in Canberra
Brumbies: 15 Aidan Toua, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 James Dargaville, 10 Wharenui Hawera, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Jordan Smiler, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Ben Hyne, 5 Sam Carter (c), 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Josh Mann-Rea, 1 Ben Alexander
Replacements: 16 Robbie Abel, 17 Nic Mayhew, 18 Leslie Leulua’iali’i-Makin, 19 Blake Enever, 20 Tom Staniforth, 21 Lolo Fakaosilea, 22 De Wet Roos, 23 Andrew Smith
Western Force: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Chance Peni, 13 Curtis Rona, 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Luke Morahan, 10 Jono Lance, 9 Ryan Louwrens, 8 Richard Hardwick, 7 Kane Koteka, 6 Brynard Stander, 5 Matt Philip, 4 Ross Haylett-Petty, 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Heath Tessmann (c), 1 Pek Cowan
Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Ben Daley, 18 Jermaine Ainsley, 19 Onehunga Havili Kaufusi, 20 Isi Naisarani, 21 Michael Ruru, 22 Ian Prior, 23 Robbie Coleman
Date: Friday, March 10
Venue: GIO Stadium, Canberra
Kick-off: 19:45 local (08:45 GMT)
Referee: Peter Hoffmann (Australia)
Assistant Referees: Federico Anselmi (Argentina), Graham Cooper (Australia)
TMO: Damien Mitchelmore (Australia)