The Brumbies defence will need to contain Hurricanes flyhalf Beauden Barrett in the semi-final in Wellington this Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Last week, the Brumbies achieved the improbable. They travelled all the way from Canberra to Cape Town, and still had enough energy to hammer the Stormers 39-19.
Do they have enough petrol in the tank to go the distance this week? They've travelled all the way back to Australasia. They will be up against a Hurricanes side that has enjoyed a two-week break. The odds are certainly against the Brumbies winning in Wellington this weekend.
The Hurricanes have lost just two matches this season. They have struck a potent balance between running and kicking, and have one of the best defences in the compettion.
The Brumbies have been inconsistent on attack, but formidable on defence. In fact, they are the one side that has conceded fewer points per game (16.5) than the Hurricanes (18). They will be difficult to breach this Saturday.
Of course, that defence will be tested by a Hurricanes attack that has it all. And one needs to remember that the Hurricanes have been particularly good at forcing turnovers, and then punishing the fractured defence of the oppostion. The Brumbies will be susceptible if they concede breakdown turnovers this Saturday.
Barrett has looked every bit the general at No 10 for the Hurricanes, and it wouldn't suprise to see him occupying that position for the All Blacks in the Rugby Championship. The Hurricanes will depend on his line-kicking and decision-making on attack. They will also count on his option-taking when there is a turnover. Barrett is one of the tournament's best flyhalves from broken play, and out wide, the Hurricanes possess some fine finishers in Julian Savea and Nehe Milner-Skudder.
The Brumbies need to limit Barrett's space. That starts with a determined forward effort at the set pieces and breakdowns. If the Brumbies can win the forward battles, maintain their shape on defence, and deploy that excellent kicking game to full effect, they will be in with a chance of an upset victory.
Of course, they've travelled extensivelly over the past two weeks, and that fatigue is bound to catch up with them at some stage. The Hurricanes are an especially dangerous side on attack in a fourth quarter of a contest, and it's the last 20 minutes of this semi-final where the Brumbies may tire. According to the stats, the Hurricanes lead the way for final-quarter tries this season (18). That's twice as many as the Brumbies, who have scored the joint-second fewest in the same timeframe.
The Brumbies did brilliantly to upset the Stormers in Cape Town last week, but they will struggle to knock over the Hurricanes in the Kiwi capital this Saturday.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Brumbies 12, Hurricanes 8
In Wellington: Brumbies 5, Hurricanes 4
STATS AND FACTS
– Since suffering defeat to the Brumbies in their first home game of the 2014 season, the Hurricanes have won 13 out of 15 in Wellington.
– The Brumbies have won the last four contests between the sides.
– The Hurricanes have lost five of six Super Rugby semi-finals. In contrast, the Brumbies have won six of eight appearances at this stage.
– The Hurricanes boast the best scrum in terms of ball retention (95%) this season, while the Brumbies’ figure is the second worst (82%).
– The Hurricanes have averaged the highest gain (560m) this season, while the Brumbies have averaged the second lowest (347m).
– Opponents of the Brumbies gain fewer metres (360) per game than any other side.
– The Hurricanes’ average of 11.6 clean breaks per game is a tournament high, though the Brumbies’ average of 5.4 breaks conceded per game is a season low.
– The Brumbies have averaged fewer lineouts lost on their throw (1.2) than any other side, while the Canes have thrown the most away, an average of 2.8 per game. They rank second best and third last for lineout success rates respectively.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Hurricanes||Beauden Barrett (110)||TJ Perenara (10)||Julian Savea (1119)||Brad Shields (156)|
|Brumbies||Christian Lealiifano (164)||Joe Tomane (8)||Joe Tomane (780)||Christian Lealiifano (133)|
Hurricanes – 15 James Marshall, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Conrad Smith (c), 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Reggie Goodes.
Subs: 16 Brayden Mitchell, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 19 Mark Abbott, 20 Blade Thomson, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 Rey Lee-Lo, 23 Matt Proctor.
Brumbies – 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Lausii Taliauli, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Nic White, 8 Ita Vaea, 7 David Pocock, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Blake Enever, 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 Jordan Smiler, 20 Jarrad Butler, 21 Michael Dowsett, 22 Nigel Ah Wong, 23 Robbie Coleman.
Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images