Defence could determine the result of Friday's Super Rugby match between the Brumbies and Hurricanes in Canberra, writes MARIETTE ADAMS.
The tournament's best attacking team will take on its best defensive side in a replay of last year's first semi-final. The Hurricanes won that match 29-9, scoring four unanswered tries against opponents who had conceded just 21 in 16 league matches.
The Canes' expansive brand of rugby last year made them heavy favourites to lift the trophy for the first time, but they lost at home to the Highlanders when it really mattered.
The Wellington-based side thrashed the Crusaders 74-7 during pre-season but lost their other matches to the Force (28-0) and Blues (40-12).
The Brumbies played two warm-up games, losing 21-17 to the Waratahs and beating the Reds 31-18. They have fallen at the semi-final stage in the past two Super Rugby seasons and reached the final in 2013, but have not won the competition since 2004.
Both teams have lost key squad members to Europe, but still boast enough firepower to challenge for the title in 2016.
With a backline containing five All Blacks, the Canes could stretch the Brumbies in the wider channels and in broken play. The visitors have the ability to do the same, with six internationals (five Wallabies and a Puma) in their back division, but whether they come away with the win will depend on their defensive display.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Brumbies 12, Hurricanes 9
In Canberra: Brumbies 7, Hurricanes 4
STATS AND FACTS
– The Brumbies have won four of their last five matches against the Hurricanes, though the New Zealand side snapped a four–game losing streak with a 29-9 victory in their last encounter.
– The Brumbies have won 13 of their last 16 matches at home in Super Rugby, never losing consecutive fixtures in that run, though their last home match was a 37-24 loss to the Crusaders.
– The Hurricanes lost only twice in the 2015 regular season. No team has lost fewer since the Crusaders lost just once in the 2006 season.
– The Hurricanes scored 23 tries from possession originating in their own half of the field in 2015, the most of any team while the Brumbies scored the fewest (two).
– The Canes averaged more metres, carries, breaks and defenders beaten per game than any other side last year as well as maintaining the best scrum success rate (95%).
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Brumbies||Christian Leali'ifano (170)||David Pocock (8)||Joe Tomane (833)||David Pocock (148)|
|Hurricanes||Beauden Barrett (121)||TJ Perenara (11)||Julian Savea (1256)||Jeremy Thrush (170)|
Brumbies – 15 Aidan Toua, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Joseph Tomane, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Tomas Cubelli, 8 Ita Vaea, 7 David Pocock, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Rory Arnold, 4 Sam Carter, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Allan Alaalatoa.
Subs: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Leslie Leuluailii-Makin, 19 Blake Enever, 20 Jarrad Butler, 21 Michael Dowsett, 22 Andrew Smith, 23 Nigel Ah Wong.
Hurricanes – 15 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Vince Aso, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Mark Abbott, 4 Blade Thomson, 3 Jeff Toomaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles (c), 1 Reggie Goodes.
Subs: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Loni Uhila, 19 Vaea Fifita, 20 Callum Gibbins, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Otere Black, 23 Willis Halaholo.
Referee – Andrew Lees (Australia)
Assistant referees – Rohan Hoffman (Australia), Michael Hogan (Australia)
TMO – Damien Mitchelmore (Australia)
Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images