The Brumbies will kick off their 2011 Super rugby campaign against the Waikato Chiefs in Canberra on Saturday night. Both teams have sprung some surprises in their respective lineups with some lesser known players making their debut’s, and also sees the return of former All Black, and predator look a like, Tana Umaga to Super Rugby. Also making his comeback to Super Rugby after a stint with Bath in England will be Julian Salvi who will be playing in his 50th match for the Brumbies
The injury curse has struck early for the Brumbies with Rocky Elsom and Christian Lealiifano not expected to feature for at least another month and Stephen Hoiles only making a bench spot after struggling with an achilles problem through pre-season and having only played 30 minutes of Rugby in the last 8 months. That said, it gives a starting debut to exciting new number 8 Ita Vaea who has impressed everyone in the squad during pre-season training. The former Tonga schools and Under 20 representative is only on an academy contract but the coaching staff believe he has what it takes to make it at Super Rugby level.
Another excitement machine set to make his starting debut in the Brumbies backline is Robbie Coleman. Despite his small frame, he has proven that he belongs in Super Rugby after an outstanding display in the trial match against the Hurricanes. Giving away 20kgs and plenty of experience to Ma’a Nonu he showed he is ready to take on Tana Umaga in the Chiefs backline. There are big wraps on this youngster and he can only benefit from playing alongside Wallabies Matt Giteau and Adam Ashley-Cooper.
Dan Palmer, who ventured down from the Waratahs in search of more game time, has also been rewarded with a start in the front row alongside Wallabies Ben Alexander and Stephen Moore after a strong off season. Palmer his displaced Salesi Ma’afu in the starting XV and could be one to keep an eye on, especially in this World Cup year and his display against the Hurricanes in the trial might prove the scrum has the stability they require.
Matt Giteau will captain the side in the absence of Hoiles and Elsom and after finalising his French Rugby contract negotiations this week, will be focused on leading his team to victory against a team the locals have struggled against in recent times – it took a try at the death for the Brumbies to secure victory in the last match.
The Chiefs have also been struck down with injuries to Hika Elliot, Isaac Ross, Colin Bourke, Mike Delany, and Richard Kahui. They have managed to name a reasonable squad that has a wealth of experience across the board, including the new acquisitions Hayden Triggs and Scott Waldrom on the bench.
The Chiefs have had some tough hit outs in the pre-season and the results should be pleasing to coach Ian Foster – a close loss to the Hurricanes was followed by a win over the Highlanders and a draw with the highly fancied Blues. These results combined with becoming runners-up in the 2010 ITM Cup should see the Chiefs erase the disappointing efforts 2010 Super 14 season that saw them win only 4 games after starting the season with 3 consecutive victories, including a 72-65 win over the Lions.
This shows what the Chiefs are capable of in attack, and with a back 3 that consists of All Blacks Mils Muliaina and Sitiveni Sivivatu it could result in dangerous counter attacking play if given the opportunities. Joining them will be Tim Nanai-Williams who can turn on the pace if given the room.
The backrow of the Chiefs is an area the Brumbies will need to keep an eye on as Liam Messam and Tanerau Latimer will be leading the way and will also have a new number 8 with Fritz Lee making his debut. His matchup with Vaea will be interesting as they possess similar traits. The Chiefs might just have the advantage over the Brumbies in this department as they appear to be the more physical backrow.
One thing that could work against the Chiefs, is Brumbies coach Andy Friend would have been racking the brains of Chrisitan Lealiifano and Henry Speight to unlock the Chiefs plays after both spent time in the ITM Cup squad in 2010.
Key matchup: Matt Giteau vs Stephen Donald – Both players that supporters seem to love to hate for various reasons. Giteau will be looking to re-establish himself in the Wallabies backline and Donald will be trying to prove that he is a capable backup to Dan Carter for the All Blacks – let’s hope it doesn’t come down to a penalty goal to win the game.
My tip: If the Brumbies can keep the ball in hand and away from the Chiefs back 3, I think they can sneak a win here. With the chance of rain leading up to the match, it could turn into to a forwards slog and with Ben Alexander and Stephen Moore leading the way for the home team, they might have the experience to grab the win. Alexander will be hoping to move closer to Joe Roff’s club try scoring record of 57 – Bookies beware!! Brumbies by 9.
Brumbies: 15. Pat McCabe, 14. Henry Speight, 13. Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12. Robbie Coleman, 11. Francis Fainifo, 10. Matt Giteau (c), 9 Josh Valentine, 8. Ita Vaea, 7. Julian Salvi, 6. Mitchell Chapman, 5. Mark Chisholm, 4. Ben Hand, 3. Dan Palmer, 2. Stephen Moore, 1. Ben Alexander Reserves: 16. Huia Edmonds, 17. Salesi Ma’afu, 18. Stephen Hoiles, 19. Colby Faingaa, 20. Patrick Phibbs, 21. Matt Toomua, 22. Andrew Smith
Chiefs: 15. Mils Muliaina (c), 14. Tim Nanai-Williams, 13. Dwayne Sweeney, 12. Tana Umaga, 11. Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10. Stephen Donald, 9. Brendon Leonard, 8. Fritz Lee, 7. Tanerau Latimer, 6. Liam Messam, 5. Romana Graham, 4. Craig Clarke, 3. Nathan White, 2. Aled de Malmanche, 1. Ben May. Reserves: 16. Toby Smith, 17. Daniel Perrin, 18. Hayden Triggs, 19. Scott Waldrom, 20. Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 21. Jackson Willison, 22. Lelia Masaga
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Mark Lawrence (South Africa), Angus Gardner (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)