Lealiifano must spark Brumbies backs

New flyhalf Christian Lealiifano has to get the Brumbies backline going against the Rebels in Canberra on Saturday, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.

The Brumbies remained at the top of the Australian conference and second on the overall log despite losing 16-14 to the last-placed Blues in Auckland last weekend. While Nic White missed a penalty after the hooter, the visitors lost the game in the first half when they posed little threat with ball in hand and conceded seven penalties that allowed the Blues to win the territorial battle and build pressure.

With flyhalf Matt Toomua having been ruled out for six to eight weeks with an ankle injury, Lealiifano will be required to spark the backline back to life on Saturday. The 27-year-old, who has played inside centre for the Brumbies all season, started his career at flyhalf but admitted it took time for him to adjust when Toomua left the field 24 minutes into the match against the Blues.

Brumbies coach Steven Larkham has surprisingly opted to bench White for this clash, starting Michael Dowsett, who has just nine Super Rugby caps, at scrumhalf. In other changes to the backline, Nigel Ah Wong starts at 12 and Lausii Taliauli on the right wing. Among the forwards, JP Smith replaces the injured Scott Sio at loosehead prop, while Rory Arnold is back at No 4 lock having recovered from a back complaint.

The Rebels are coming off a bye last weekend, having beaten the Reds 23-15 in Melbourne in round eight. While they have already won away twice this season, in Christchurch and Perth, they have lost all four of their previous matches in Canberra by big margins (32-17 in 2011, 37-6 in 2012, 39-17 in 2013 and 37-10 in 2014) and are unlikely to break that sequence against a Brumbies team who have won their last 11 matches at home.

Overall: Brumbies 7, Rebels 2
In Canberra: Brumbies 4, Rebels 0

– The Brumbies have won all four of their meetings with the Rebels in Canberra; scoring 32, 37, 39 and 37 points during the course of these meetings.
– The aggregate score in those matches is 145-50, with the Rebels’ smallest losing margin in this run sitting at 15 points.  
– The Brumbies have won their last 11 home games, equalling their best run of its kind since winning their first 13 at home between 1996 and 1998.
– The Brumbies have the best lineout success rate (91%) this season, while the Rebels’ is the worst (78%).
– The Canberra-base side has conceded fewer (9.3) and won more (12.6) penalties per game than any other team this year.
– The Brumbies have scored eight tries and conceded just one in the 20 minutes following half-time. The Rebels have scored two and conceded five in the same time frame.

Team Top point-scorer Top try-scorer Most metres gained Most tackles
Brumbies Christian Lealiifano (84) Ben Alexander (3) Joe Tomane (367) Jarrad Butler (80)
Rebels Mike Harris (75) Lopeti Timani (3) Mike Harris (427) Sean McMahon (80)

Brumbies – 15 Robbie Coleman, 14 Lausii Taliauli, 13 Henry Speight, 12 Nigel Ah Wong, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Michael Dowsett, 8 Jarrad Butler, 7 David Pocock, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 JP Smith.
Subs: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 Allan Alaalatoa, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Blake Enever, 20 Ita Vaea, 21 Jordan Smiler, 22 Nic White, 23 Rodney Iona.

Rebels – 15 Mike Harris, 14 Tom English, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Sefanaia Naivalu, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Nic Stirzaker, 8 Scott Higginbotham (c), 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Sean McMahon, 5 Lopeti Timani, 4 Luke Jones, 3 Paul Alo-Emile, 2 Pat Leafa, 1 Toby Smith.
Subs: 16 Tom Sexton, 17 Cruze Ah-Nau, 18 Tim Metcher, 19 Cadeyrn Neville, 20 Colby Fainga'a, 21 Jordy Reid, 22 Luke Burgess, 23 Bryce Hegart.

Photo: Mark Nolan/Getty Images

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