Brumbies flyhalf Matt Toomua will pose the greatest threat to the Chiefs in the first play-off qualifier in Canberra on Saturday, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
Toomua missed the Brumbies' 39-8 defeat to the Waratahs in Sydney because of a groin injury sustained against France, but returned to start at 10 against the Force last weekend. He produced a red-hot performance, scoring the first Brumbies' hat-trick since Mark Gerrard's in the 2004 Super 12 final, having a hand in another two tries, and making a couple of big hits on opposite number Zac Holmes. Most importantly, he gave the Brumbies backline the direction it had lacked in Sydney when Christian Lealiifano was calling the shots.
Toomua's battle with Aaron Cruden could be decisive in a match between two teams who have blown hot and cold this season. The Brumbies won just two of their last five league matches, while the Chiefs' wins against the Hurricanes and Blues, which got them into the play-offs, were preceded by three consecutive defeats, to the Hurricanes, Waratahs and Highlanders. Had the champions not snatched two come-from-behind draws in South Africa, their two-year reign would already be over.
The Brumbies will go into this match as favourites having beaten the Chiefs 41-23 in Canberra in April, scoring five tries to two. The Chiefs have only recorded two victories in Australia's capital city in 10 attempts, the last of which came in 2008.
Goal-kicking could prove to be crucial, especially if the game is tight. These sides are the worst in this department this season, with the Brumbies having landed 63% of their shots at goal and the Chiefs 69%. Cruden has kicked at 68%, while Lealiifano’s 49% (21/43) is the worst of any of the 24 players to attempt 20-plus kicks.
The Brumbies have made two injury-enforced changes to the match 23 that beat the Force, with Robbie Coleman starting on the left wing in place of Clyde Rathbone (hamstring strain) and debutant Allan Alaalatoa replacing JP Smith (knee injury) on the bench. The Chiefs have tweaked the team that edged the Blues, with Dwayne Sweeney starting at fullback in place of Tom Marshall.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Brumbies 11, Chiefs 2, Draw 1
In Canberra: Brumbies 7, Chiefs 2, Draw 1
TOOMUA'S STATS THAT MATTER
3 – The number of tries he scored against the Force last Saturday
102 – The number of running metres he made
10 – The number of times he carried the ball
2 – The number of clean breaks he made
3 – The number of defenders he beat
Source: Vodacom Rugby Stats App
Brumbies – 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Christian Leali'ifano, 11 Robbie Coleman, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Nic White, 8 Ben Mowen (c), 7 Jarrad Butler, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Leon Power, 4 Sam Carter, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Josh Mann-Rea, 1 Scott Sio.
Subs: 16 Ruaidhri Murphy, 17 Ruan Smith, 18 Allan Alaalatoa, 19 Fotu Auelua, 20 Tom McVerry, 21 Michael Dowsett, 22 Joe Tomane, 23 Pat McCabe.
Chiefs – 15 Dwayne Sweeney, 14 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 13 Tim Nanai-Williams, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (c), 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Liam Squire, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Mike Fitzgerald, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Mahonri Schwalger, 1 Jamie Mackintosh.
Subs: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 Nick Barrett, 19 Matt Symons, 20 Tevita Koloamatangi, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Gareth Anscombe, 23 Tom Marshall.
Photo: Mark Nolan/Getty Images