The performance of the Chiefs loose trio may be the difference when the top-ranked Australasian sides clash in Canberra on Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Three weeks ago, the Brumbies were the best team in the competition. They were at the top of the Australasian group, and were playing the most effective brand of rugby. At that stage, many were tipping the Brumbies as early favourites for the Super Rugby title.
The two-game tour to South Africa, however, has stalled their momentum somewhat. The Brumbies went down 31-11 to the Stormers in Cape Town. While they beat the Cheetahs 25-18 in Bloemfontein, the performance was anything but polished.
It won't get any easier for the Brumbies as they return to Canberra this week. Their bodies as well as their minds will be put to the test.
The Brumbies will face the Chiefs after two gruelling games against South African opposition. Energy levels may be low after the long flight back to Australia.
What's more, the Australian media reports that 'an ugly boardroom war' is set to disrupt the Brumbies' season. Matt Toomua told the Canberra Times that the players will 'get on with the job', but it can't be easy.
The Chiefs should feel confident about their chances this Saturday. Apart from the off-field issues, the Brumbies have had some problems on the pitch.
The Chiefs will have noted how badly the Brumbies were beaten at the breakdown when facing the Stormers. They will have seen how the lowly Cheetahs managed to stifle David Pocock and company – albeit to a lesser degree – in Bloemfontein.
The Brumbies have not been as proficient at the set pieces in recent rounds. The Chiefs will look to match them at the scrums and lineouts, and then overpower them at the collisions and breakdowns.
Expect to see Sam Cane and his teammates flooding the breakdowns in an effort to force the turnover. From there, expect to see the likes of Damian McKenzie having a big impact on the counter-attack.
The game promises to be one of the top clashes of the league stage. Normally, you'd put your money on the Brumbies in Canberra. And yet, given all that has transpired over the past few weeks, the Chiefs are well placed to secure an upset victory that would consolidate their position at the top of the log.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Brumbies 13, Chiefs 8
In Canberra: Brumbies 9, Chiefs 2
STATS AND FACTS
– The spoils are split at two wins apiece in the last four matches between these teams; of those four matches, two have been post-season with each team notching one win.
– The Brumbies have won eight and drawn one of their last 10 home matches against the Chiefs.
– The Chiefs have won their last three matches away from home and a fourth straight road win would equal their second-longest streak in club history (2007), just one behind the club record (five wins in 2011-12).
– The Chiefs scored twice from the scrum in round four, taking their season tally to six tries from that origin, the most of any team so far this season.
– Damian McKenzie leads the competition in points (85), tries (six) and goals (24) scored after five rounds; Charlie Ngatai is the second-best try-scorer (five) after his four tries against the Force.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Brumbies||Christian Leali’ifano (57)||Stephen Moore, Josh Mann-Rea, Joe Tomane (2)||Joe Tomane (250)||David Pocock (51)|
|Chiefs||Damian McKenzie (85)||Damian McKenzie (6)||James Lowe (423)||Sam Cane (53)|
Brumbies – 15 Aidan Toua, 14 Joe Tomane, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Robbie Coleman, 10 Christian Leali'ifano (c), 9 Tomás Cubelli, 8 Ita Vaea, 7 David Pocock, 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 Leslie Leulua’iali’i-Makin, 19 Tom Staniforth, 20 Jordan Smiler, 21 Joe Powell, 22 James Dargaville, 23 Nigel Ah Wong.
Chiefs – 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (c), 9 Brad Weber, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Sam Cane (c), 6 Tom Sanders, 5 Taleni Seu, 4 Michael Allardice, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Mitchell Graham.
Subs: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Atu Moli, 18 Siegfried Fisi’ihoi, 19 James Tucker, 20 Maama Vaipulu, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Seta Tamanivalu, 23 Shaun Stevenson.
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: William Houston (New Zealand), James Leckie (Australia)
TMO: Ian Smith (Australia)
Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images