The Brumbies need to beat the Blues at Eden Park on Friday to maintain their challenge for the Australian conference title, writes MARIETTE ADAMS.
Heading into the penultimate round of the regular season, Stephen Larkham's men are level on points with the Waratahs, who host the Hurricanes on Saturday, but are top of the Australian conference because they have one more win.
The Blues are out of the running for the playoffs, but the results of their last two home fixtures – against the Brumbies and Waratahs – could determine which Australian side progresses to the playoffs.
When the Brumbies and the Blues last played, at Eden Park in 2015, Ihaia West slotted a 77th-minute penalty to hand the hosts a 16-14 win. The Blues will feel confident ahead of this particular fixture, having won six of their eight matches at home against the Brumbies.
The Brumbies have lost their last four matches in New Zealand. They have also been on the receiving end in their last three matches against Kiwi opposition, losing 48-23 to the Chiefs, 40-14 to the Crusaders and 23-10 to the Highlanders.
Form-wise, the Brumbies are coming off a 43-24 bonus-point victory against the Reds, while the Blues let a 10-point lead slip in their 37-27 defeat to the Hurricanes. The Brumbies put in a strong second-half performance to get their emphatic win, while the Blues were outscored 20-3 in the second stanza of their match.
Neither side was at its best last weekend and will be looking for an 80-minute display on Friday.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Blues 12, Brumbies 9
In Auckland: Blues 8, Brumbies 4
STATS AND FACTS
– The Blues won the last meeting between the two sides; however, they lost four of their previous six against the Brumbies before that.
– The Auckland-based side have won six of their last eight matches at home against the Brumbies; the last four meetings in that run have seen the defeated side pick up a losing bonus point.
– In the last three meetings between the Blues and the Brumbies just 33 points on average were scored per game; the three games prior to that yielded an average of 57 points in total.
– The Blues' last six home games have all been won by margins of eight points or fewer with the Auckland-based side winning four of those fixtures.
– The Brumbies have won four away games this season, including three of their last four; a fifth away victory would be their most in a regular season since 2012.
– The Brumbies have lost on each of their last four regular season trips to New Zealand, this after winning four in a row on their trans-Tasman trips before that.
– The Blues have won 12 of their last 14 hosting Australian sides, including each of the last five in a row; the last time they went on a longer winning streak against Australian teams at home was between 2002 and 2007 when they won 11 on the bounce.
– The Blues have had exactly 18 minutes of possession per game this season, the most of any team in the competition and almost half a minute more than the second highest team in the competition, the Brumbies.
– Christian Leali'ifano has kicked 77% of his attempts at goal, the most of any player who has made more than 50 attempts so far this season.
– David Pocock (23) and Scott Fardy (19) lead the tournament in turnovers won, significantly more than Blues best Blake Gibson (nine).
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Blues||Ihaia West (130)||Melani Nanai (4)||Melani Nanai (618)||Steven Luatua (96)|
|Brumbies||Christian Leali'ifano (142)||Stephen Moore (7)||Aidan Toua (768)||David Pocock (94)|
Blues – 15 Melani Nanai, 14 Matt Duffie, 13 Male Sa'u/Matt Vaega, 12 Piers Francis, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Steven Luatua, 7 Kara Pryor, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Josh Bekhuis/Scott Scrafton, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 2 James Parsons (c), 1 Sam Prattley.
Subs: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Nic Mayhew, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 20 Blake Gibson, 21 Billy Guyton, 22 Matt Vaega/Michael Little, 23 Lolagi Visinia.
Brumbies – 15 Aidan Toua, 14 Nigel Ah Wong, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 James Dargaville, 10 Christian Leali'ifano (c), 9 Tomás Cubelli, 8 Michael Wells, 7 Jarrad Butler, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 Scott Sio.
Subs: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 Allan Alaalatoa, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Blake Enever, 20 Tam Staniforth, 21 Joe Powell, 22 Andrew Smith, 23 Lausii Taliauli.
Referee: Ben O'Keefe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand), Jamie Nutbrown (New Zealand)
TMO: Shane McDermott (New Zealand)
Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images