The Brumbies will need to throw the kitchen sink at the Waratahs in their final regular-season match of the campaign in Sydney on Saturday.
Requiring a bonus-point win and hoping that the Rebels and Sharks struggle in their respective games against the Highlanders (away) and Jaguares (home), it’s a big ask to see the outfit from Canberra sneaking into the knockout stages. But they’ll know whether they stand a chance before kick-off, which could be a driving force.
It is also going to take some effort from the Brumbies to halt this Waratahs side, who are in form and looking to wrap up a home semi-final place. That would be some turnaround from Daryl Gibson’s men following 2017.
Last season they won just four out of their eleven games but a year on they could finish on ten victories and a draw, which is some swing. They have won their last three Super Rugby fixtures on the spin to put themselves in this strong position and also have the psychological boost of having snapped a three-game losing streak to the Brumbies the last time they met, winning 24-17 in Canberra earlier this season.
The Waratahs have won eight of their last nine Australian derbies, including their last five on the bounce across which they’ve scored 50+ points on two occasions. Meanwhile, the Brumbies have lost their last four national derbies away from home and what will also concern their fans in their quest for a bonus-point win is that in just one of those four games, either side scored 20+ points. That will need to change.
As mentioned they face a Waratahs outfit in sparkling scoring form who have scored 108 points since Super Rugby returned from the international break, 28 more than any other team and 65 more than the Brumbies. Gibson’s men look a real threat going into the play-offs and should seal home advantage on Saturday for both a qualifier and possible semi-final. From there who knows? Could a repeat of 2014’s final be looming?
The last time the teams met: The Waratahs ran out 24-17 winners in Canberra thanks to two tries from Taqele Naiyaravoro and 14 points off the tee from Bernard Foley. In reply the Brumbies crossed through Lausii Taliauli with Wharenui Hawera slotting four penalties in defeat.
Players to watch:
For Waratahs: What a season he is having before saying goodbye to head north. Taqele Naiyaravoro crossed twice last week to move level at the try-scoring summit alongside Ben Lam and looks a good bet to finish top of the pile judging from recent form. With the ‘Tahs creating plenty of chances it’s almost inevitable that Naiyaravoro will cross the whitewash, such is his power and pace in the one-on-one battles.
For Brumbies: Trying to stop the quick ball will be David Pocock, who is vital to upsetting the flow of the Waratahs game. The Brumbies of course need to attack but also must limit the scoring chances of the Waratahs if they are to claim this coveted bonus-point win in Sydney. If Pocock is on song and frustrates his hosts then it is up to the likes of Tevita Kuridrani and Henry Speight to pounce on turnover ball.
Team news: Waratahs head coach Daryl Gibson has named an unchanged line-up as he felt it would be unfair to drop anyone after an impressive performance last weekend against the Sunwolves. Taqele Naiyaravoro will be eager to add to his 14 tries this season and edge Ben Lam to top spot.
“Part of our strategy is to try and keep combinations together, and it is up to those players to really earn it through their performances. As a coaching team we feel that they are doing that and deserve their spots,” said Gibson, who says he expects a typical Australian derby.
“For both sides there is real incentive there on the outcome of the game. The Brumbies need a bonus point win to have a chance to quality and for us the real carrot of knowing if you progress in this tournament of giving yourself the opportunity through having a home semi-final potentially.”
Meanwhile, Brumbies head coach Dan McKellar has made two changes to the starting XV for the trip to Sydney.
McKellar has selected Scott Sio at loosehead prop and paired Richie Arnold with twin brother Rory for the first time in Super Rugby, as the Brumbies go looking for the bonus-point win that would give them a chance of playing in the play-offs.
Sio will team up with fellow Wallabies international Allan Alaalatoa either side of the impressive hooker Folau Fainga’a in the heart of the engine room in what is sure to be a colossal front-row battle with the club’s perennial rivals from New South Wales.
Blake Enever shifts from lock to flanker to compensate for the inclusion of Richie Arnold, with Tom Cusack unavailable, after the flanker suffered a head-knock in Hamilton against the Chiefs in Round 18. David Pocock and Isi Naisarani join Enever in the back-row.
The backline remains unchanged for the sixth straight game having crossed for a combined total of fifteen tries in that time-frame between them.
Form: The Waratahs have won four of their last five games – three in a row – and are full of confidence after the June break. Meanwhile, the Brumbies went into the Test series on the back of three wins but returned to action with a defeat at the hands of the Chiefs last weekend, which hit their play-off hopes.
Prediction: It’s hard to see the in-form hosts being halted here. Waratahs by 10.
2018: Waratahs won 24-17 in Canberra
2017: Brumbies won 28-12 in Sydney
2016: Brumbies won 26-20 in Sydney
2016: Brumbies won 32-15 in Canberra
2015: Waratahs won 13-10 in Canberra
2015: Waratahs won 28-13 in Sydney
2014: Waratahs won 26-8 in Sydney
2014: Waratahs won 39-8 in Sydney
Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Cam Clark, 13 Curtis Rona, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 10 Bernard Foley (c), 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Michael Wells, 7 Will Miller, 6 Ned Hanigan, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Jed Holloway, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick, 1 Tom Robertson
Replacements: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Harry Johnson-Holmes, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Tom Staniforth, 20 Brad Wilkin, 21 Jake Gordon, 22 Alex Newsome, 23 Bryce Hegarty
Brumbies: 15 Tom Banks, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Andrew Muirhead, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 David Pocock, 6 Blake Enever, 5 Richie Arnold, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 Scott Sio
Replacements: 16 Connal McInerney, 17 Nic Mayhew, 18 Leslie Leuluaialii-Makin, 19 Sam Carter, 20 Lachlan McCaffrey, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 Wharenui Hawera, 23 Lausii Taliauli
Date: Saturday, July 14
Venue: Allianz Stadium, Sydney
Kick-off: 19:45 local (10:45 BST, 09:45 GMT)
Referee: Angus Gardner
Assistant Referees: Will Houston, James Leckie
TMO: George Ayoub