Finals come early for Brumbies and Reds (plus run home)
The Brumbies will mount a vigorous judicial challenge to have linchpin flanker Michael Hooper available for Saturday night’s high-stakes Super Rugby clash with a resurgent Queensland.
The Brumbies have engaged lawyers to help defend Hooper when he fronts a SANZAR hearing on Monday evening, desperately hoping to escape suspension for an alleged dangerous tackle.
It’s no surprise the Australian conference leaders will do all they can to get the in-form No.7 off the charge as the result will have a huge bearing on a match both sides are treating as a final at Canberra Stadium.
Hooper was sorely missed when he was strangely left on the bench for the Brumbies’ 20-13 Good Friday loss to the Reds when the defending champions outpointed them at the breakdown with ball scavengers Liam Gill and Beau Robinson starting together and reaping the rewards.
Teenager Gill has been instrumental in Queensland’s surge up the table to cut the Brumbies’ (44) conference lead to eight points.
Hooper’s potential ban would not only rob the Brumbies of a key man but also rugby fans and Test selectors of an eagerly-anticipated head-to-head battle between Australia’s two rising stars.
Last year they were Australian Under-20 teammates but now they’re Super Rugby’s leading pilferers and competing to be the next Wallabies open-side flanker behind David Pocock.
Despite SANZAR’s intentions in stamping out lifting tackles, Brumbies skipper Ben Mowen was confident Hooper would be exonerated for his accidental effort on Hurricanes back-rower Victor Vito in Friday night’s 37-25 win in Wellington.
Hooper was only penalised by referee Mark Lawrence, but cited post-match, and then on review the tackle was referred to a hearing before New Zealand judicial officer Nick Davidson QC.
While it was not deliberate, a lack of intent did not help Reds winger Digby Ioane to escape a four-match ban for a similar tip-tackle in March.
“A lot of the time it’s more due to what the attacking player does, twisting and turning in the tackle,” Mowen told AAP.
“It would be great for the fans to see that competition (between Hooper and Gill). For a long time it was Pocock and then no one but now we have these two guys on the rise.”
Colby Faingaa looms as Hooper’s potential replacement for his first match back from an ankle injury in front what’s set to be Canberra’s biggest crowd for several years.
“We’ve already taken the view that it’s a final,” Mowen said.
“While you don’t want to focus too much on other sides, the reality is we can almost end their hopes of the finals or make it really hard for them.
“There’s a lot at stake in respect to the conference but as much as that we want to have momentum going into the June break.”
With Quade Cooper making a sparkling first-half comeback from knee surgery, Queensland (36) scored a 34-20 win over the last-placed Lions to be eighth on the table and five points out of the top six.
The Waratahs’ finals hopes were extinguished in Cape Town by a 19-13 loss to the pace-setting Stormers (49), while the Melbourne Rebels leapfrogged NSW with a 32-31 win over the Western Force.
The Chiefs (49) lead the Kiwi conference following a bye but the Crusaders (42) snapped back into form with a 59-12 drubbing of the Blues.
Super Rugby Run Home
1. STORMERS (49pts) – Sharks (a), Bulls (a), Lions (h), Cheetahs (a), Rebels (h)
2. CHIEFS (49) – Bulls (h), Blues (a), Highlanders (a), Crusaders (h), Hurricanes (a).
3. BRUMBIES (44) – Reds (h), Rebels (a), Force (a), Waratahs (a), Blues (h).
4. BULLS (47) – Chiefs (a), Stormers (h), Cheetahs (h), Sharks (a), Lions (h).
5. CRUSADERS (42) – bye, Highlanders (h), Hurricanes (h), Chiefs (a), Force (h).
6. SHARKS (41) – Stormers (h), Lions (a), bye, Bulls (h), Cheetahs (h).
7. HIGHLANDERS (39) – Blues (a), Crusaders (a), Chiefs (h), Reds (a), bye.
8. REDS (36) – Brumbies (a), bye, Rebels (a), Highlanders (h), Waratahs (h).
9. HURRICANES (35) – Rebels (h), Waratahs (a), Crusaders (a), bye, Chiefs (h).© AAP 2013
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