At the beginning of the year if anyone said the Brumbies vs. Reds match in May could decide the Australian Conference winner, they would have been laughed at.
But that is the reality of this match on Saturday in Canberra when the conference leading Brumbies take on the Queensland Reds. For the Reds it’s not quite a must win game but they do trail the Brumbies by 8 points and have a game in hand and this could prove vital in the final wash up.
The big talking point in the lead up to the game that everyone wants to see is still on course after Brumbies flanker Michael Hooper escaped suspension for his tackle on Hurricanes player Victor Vito in last weeks game and will line up against Liam Gill, who has been setting the world on fire in recent games. The only downside to this battle is that Gill won’t be pushing for Wallaby selection and will be leading the Australian Under 20 side to South Africa for the Junior World Championships, leaving Hooper with a free pass to be David Pocock’s backup.
The Brumbies and Reds played back in April and it’s fair to say the Brumbies got smashed at the breakdown in a game where Hooper started on the bench and his omission was glaringly obvious. There’s less chance of the Brumbies suffering the same fate now that Hooper is starting. The set piece is also a concern for the Brumbies and Peter Kimlin has been brought back into the starting XV to add some height to the lineout.
He takes the place of Fotu Auelua who misses out after suffering a head knock in the Hurricanes match but Brumbies coach Jake White revealed today that Auelua wouldn’t have played anyway and would have been rotated after playing in 5 consecutive games. With Kimlin’s elevation, Leon Power takes his place on the bench. The only other change sees Nic White start in place of Ian Prior.
The Reds did just enough against the Lions last week and got the 5 points they needed. Quade Cooper also made his long awaited comeback from a knee injury and put in a solid 40 minute performance that Jake White had earlier in the week questioned whether was enough to see him play a full 80 this week. That may need to happen if the Reds are to be a chance especially with Ben Lucas struggling with a groin injury and his status of playing in the game won’t be known until after the captains run on Friday.
Beau Robinson also makes his return from an ankle injury and could be a surprise selection in the starting XV and play in tandem with Gill which worked effectively in the April clash.
The Reds finally tasted success in Canberra last year on the back of Quade Cooper’s boot so they know what it takes to beat the Brumbies in Canberra. Whatever happens on Saturday night, it could surely be the game of the season in the Aussie conference but as the derby’s have tended to be, a conservative approach could be taken.
Brumbies: 15. Jesse Mogg, 14. Henry Speight, 13. Andrew Smith, 12. Pat McCabe, 11. Joe Tomane, 10. Zack Holmes, 9. Nic White, 8. Ben Mowen (c), 7. Michael Hooper, 6. Peter Kimlin, 5. Sam Carter, 4. Scott Fardy, 3. Dan Palmer, 2. Stephen Moore, 1. Ben Alexander.
Res: 16. Anthony Hegarty, 17. Ruaidhri Murphy, 18. Leon Power, 19. Ita Vaea, 20. Ian Prior, 21. Robbie Coleman, 22. Tevita Kuridrani.
Reds: (Now with updated team list)
15. Luke Morahan, 14. Dom Shipperley, 13. Anthony Faingaa, 12. Mike Harris, 11. Digby Ioane, 10. Quade Cooper, 9. Will Genia, 8. Scott Higginbotham , 7. Liam Gill, 6. Beau Robinson, 5. James Horwill (c), 4. Rob Simmons, 3. James Slipper, 2. Saia Faingaa, 1. Greg Holmes.
Res: 16. James Hanson, 17. Ben Daley, 18. Adam Wallace-Harrison, 19. Jake Schatz , 20. Nick Ultimate Frisby, 21. Dallan Murphy, 22. Chris F’Sautia.
The game is on Saturday night at Canberra Stadium with kick off at 7:40pm. If you can’t get to the game, you can watch it on Fox Sports 3.
Steve Walsh is taking the whistle for this game, which is interesting since he took charge of the game in Brisbane earlier in the year.
The weather is expected to be ordinary with rain and wind expected in the lead up and on game day.
Referee: Steve Walsh (Aus)
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Aus), Andrew Lees (Aus)
TMO: George Ayoub (Aus)
There are so many good match ups on the park it’s hard to single one out. With Gill and Hooper the obvious choice, I’ll go with the battle of the scrum halves Nic White vs. Will Genia. Genia has the Wallaby 9 spot nailed down but it’s who will back him up that is far from certain.
Genia has shown he can score tries from long range, with anything less than a 60 metre run to the line hardly worth worrying about. Nic White has come a long way in a short amount of time and should be considered by Robbie Deans for the upcoming tests. His field kicking can be top notch at times, with the Waratahs game an example, but he just needs to weed out those kicking out on the full errors that creep in every now and then. But with George Gregan helping him out, it’s only a matter of time before Deans gives him the call.
The Fearless Prediction
This match could be anything to be honest. Historically there is no real pattern to how they are played out. Scores in the past have ranged from 6-3 to 38-32 so there’s potential for an exciting game. But as the rain starts to tumble down in Canberra tonight, the chances of a high scoring game are diminishing and I can see this being decided by the forwards.
I hope that Steve Walsh allows the game to unfold naturally and not too quick on the whistle to have the score progressing in 3’s, which means the goalkickers will have to be on their game.
I would love to sit on the fence and hope for a draw but there is far too much riding on this game. Both teams are on winning streaks and full of confidence so I think whoever blinks first and deviates from their game plan will end up on the wrong side of the scoreboard.
Because it’s in Canberra, Brumbies by 1.