Brumbies cement position atop Australian conference
Australia's Brumbies Peter Kimlin is challenged by South Africa's Lions Elton Jantjies. AP Photo/Themba Hadebe
The questions surrounding the Brumbies eligibility as Australian conference leaders have been answered with a somewhat scrappy win over the Hurricanes in Wellington.
The 37-25 win for the Brumbies has cemented their position at the top of the conference, eight points ahead of the in-form Queensland Reds.
They are fourth overall on the Super Rugby ladder, only five points shy of first place.
The Brumbies forward pack continues to impress with their physicality at the breakdown and their solid set piece.
Fotu Auelua, the Brumbies new addition this year at number eight, has impressed all season with his strong and decisive running game.
It has given the Brumbies the ability for some good front-foot ball, along with his terrorisation of the defence.
Captain Ben Mowen has continued his good form not only through his playing, but through his ‘lead from the front’ captaincy. It is similar to that of David Pocock at the Western Force.
Young superstar Michael Hooper put in another outstanding performance against the Hurricanes with his resilient defensive tackling and pilfering, along with his great ability to break the first tackle in attack.
This Brumbies back row has become a force to be reckoned with this season, and gives them great poise going into their biggest game of the season against the Reds this weekend.
Additionally, the Brumbies can take confidence from the performance by Zack Holmes at first five, replacing the injured Christian Leliafano.
Leliafano’s form this season saw him being considered for the Wallabies number ten, but due to a severe ankle injury he will miss the rest of the season.
Holmes, the man the Brumbies call ‘Kafer’ was solid with a great kicking game along with a try.
After the game, captain Ben Mowen revealed how close he was to starting at the beginning of the season.
He was only left out due to the great form of Toomua and Leliafano. With these two now out, it has given Holmes a fantastic opportunity and one which he seems to be relishing.
The Brumbies ability this season to start the game with force has also been a great asset, as they put points on early and force teams to play catch-up.
In saying this, they have been guilty of letting their foot off the gas in the middle periods of the game and letting teams back into the contest, as we saw against the Hurricanes.
However, in stark contrast to last season, the Brumbies have an ability to finish off well and even throw the hammer down and increase their winning margins over the last 20 minutes.
Coach Jake White has been instrumental in the Brumbies mentality, as their ability to turn pressure into points has been unmatched in the competition.
Every time the Brumbies have contested the Hurricanes, they have been able to walk away with points. Last time they managed to score three converted tries in the last quarter of the game.
Their cool and calm demeanor in the opposition’s red zone gives them this ability and teams have succumbed to the pressure.
This is something that can work to the Brumbies’ advantage this week against the Reds.
In comparison to the Brumbies, the Reds seem to start relatively slow, clearly illustrated against the Lions at Suncorp.
In the first 15 minutes of the game, the Lions had all the possession and field position.
However the Lions were not able to capitalise on their opportunities, whereas a team in great form such as the Brumbies could ultimately take the game away from the Reds early.
The things the Brumbies will have to watch for are their looseness around the break downs as Will Genia has returned to his best.
Furthermore, Quade Cooper is coming back from injury, giving the Reds that much-needed X-factor.
Scott Higginbotham is also in the form of his life, giving the Reds forward pack some ‘mongrel’ and a dominant figure in their lineout.
Although Quade only played around half the game against the Lions, he showed his ability to make something out of nothing, which was their defining factor last season.
Additionally, the Reds seem to be continually producing young talent with Chris Feauai-Sautia making his debut, scoring a try with his first touch of the ball.
Ewen Mackenzie has continued with this attitude of ‘giving players a go’, which has paid off once again.
Despite Genia and Cooper giving the Reds their main attacking threats, the big match-up will be the two in-form young flankers of Liam Gill and Michael Hooper.
Hooper, who is facing a SANZAR judiciary decision from his spear tackle on Victor Vito against the Hurricanes, is in some doubt to play this weekend.
If he is missing from the game the Reds could have the advantage at the break down.
Gill, who has been compared to a young Richie McCaw by former All Blacks coach John Mitchell, has given the Reds the edge at the break down with his unparalleled ability to consistently force turnovers.
Gill also showed his running ability against the Lions, which has been the one area of concern in his game.
Hooper, however, has been an attacking weapon for the Brumbies, being an extremely hard man to bring down.
He is able to constantly break tackles, recording a staggering seven tackle busts against the Hurricanes.
The contest for the ball between these two will be one to watch this weekend
If Hooper is not cleared to play, the Reds will be somewhat confident going into the game.
However, the fact remains that this is a must-win game for the Reds if they wish to win the Australian conference.
The Brumbies have enough points and could afford to lose this game and still make the finals.
This game could come to define who makes the finals, and ultimately, who wins the trophy.
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