The forwards battle between the Brumbies and Waratahs could determine the outcome of Saturday's match in Canberra, writes MARIETTE ADAMS.
Australian rugby's blue-ribbon fixture is set for an enticing clash as archrivals the Brumbies and Waratahs go head to head to gain the upper hand on the conference log.
The Brumbies delivered a near-perfect performance in the opening round when they inflicted a shock 52-10 defeat on the Hurricanes in Canberra, while the Waratahs weren't far off the pace in their 30-10 defeat of the Reds in Sydney.
But taking into account the strength of the opposition they faced respectively, you'd have to say it was the Brumbies who made an early statement of intent and are favourites to win this clash.
Stephen Larkham's men showed no area of weakness, as they struck the right balance between attack and defence to run in seven tries past the out-of-sorts Hurricanes while conceding just one. They were particularly good up front, with the forwards bullying the Canes pack in the scrums, the lineouts and at the breakdowns.
However, recent history between these sides indicates the Waratahs are not to be discounted. They are on a four-match winning streak against the Canberra-based side and have won 11 of their last 13 Australian derbies.
And while Tahs coach Daryl Gibson believes fullback Israel Folau could be the difference between winning and losing, the battle between flankers and Wallabies teammates David Pocock and Michael Hooper could be match-defining.
Both scored last week and made one turnover apiece, but in captain Hooper the Waratahs have the tournament's leading tackler with 21 hits so far. The 24-year-old also made nine carries, two clean breaks and beat three defenders.
By his own standards Pocock wasn't his usual self last week, making just six tackles and conceded four penalties, but that could be down to the haplessness of the Hurricanes.
Both teams boast explosive backline players who can break the game open, but they'll need their respective forward packs to win the collisions up front, giving the sense that whoever reigns at the breakdown between Hooper and Pocock can potentially sway the game in his team's favour.
In the only changes to the Brumbies team, lock Blake Enever and loosehead prop Scott Sio replace Rory Armold and Allan Alaalatoa.
The Waratahs named an unchanged XV, but there are two additions to the bench, with Wycliff Palu back in the mix and Matt Sandell coming in for Benn Robinson, who suffered a broken nose against the Reds.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Brumbies 11, Waratahs 16
In Canberrra: Brumbies 9, Waratahs 3
STATS AND FACTS
– The Waratahs have won each of their last four matches against the Brumbies, keeping them to fewer than 14 points on each occasion.
– The Brumbies became the first Australian team other than the Waratahs to score 50 or more points in a Super Rugby match since 2011 when the Reds beat the Rebels 53-3; the Waratahs have managed the feat twice since then.
– The Brumbies have won only one of their last five games immediately following a match in which they scored 50-plus points.
– The Waratahs have won 11 of their last 13 games against Australian opposition, with both defeats in that run coming against the Force; the last time the Waratahs lost to an Australian team outside the Force was in round five in 2014, against the Brumbies (28-23).
– The Waratahs scored three of their four tries in the opening half of their match against the Reds in the last round, only the Cheetahs (four) managed to score more in the opening 40 minutes.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Brumbies||Christian Leali'ifano (17)||David Pocock, Sam Carter, Tomas Cubelli, Tevita Kuridrani, Josh Mann-Rea, Scott Fardy, Stephen Moore (1)||Henry Speight (40)||Matt Toomua, Christian Leali'ifano (12)|
|Waratahs||Kurtley Beale (7)||Carraro, Phipps, Hooper, Horwitz (1)||Israel Folau (21)||Michael Hooper (21)|
Brumbies – 15 Aidan Toua, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Christian Leali'ifano (c), 9 Tomás Cubelli, 8 Ita Vaea, 7 David Pocock, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Blake Enever, 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 Jordan Smiler, 20 Jarrad Butler, 21 Michael Dowsett, 22 Andrew Smith, 23 Nigel Ah Wong.
Waratahs – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Matt Carraro, 13 Rob Horne, 12 David Horwitz, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Kurtley Beale, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Jed Holloway, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 David Dennis, 5 Will Skelton, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Paddy Ryan.
Subs: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Matt Sandell, 18 Jeremy Tilse, 19 Sam Lousi, 20 Wycliff Palu, 21 Jack Dempsey, 22 Matt Lucas, 23 Bryce Hegarty.
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Quinton Immelman (South Africa), William Houston (Australia)
TMO: Ian Smith (Australia)
Photo: Stefan Postles/Getty Images