The Roar
The Roar


Brumbies have small chance but huge opportunity tonight

Christian Lealiifano passes the ball (Photo: John Youngs photography)
Roar Guru
20th July, 2017

A Brumbies win over the red-hot Hurricanes in tonight’s first 2017 Super play-off in Canberra would be both a desperately-needed shot in the arm for Australian rugby and a stark reminder of the absurdity of the competition’s format.

Few will be backing the Brumbies to buck the shocking trend that has seen all 25 trans-Tasman matches go the way of the Kiwis this season.

But the reality of the situation is that Steve Larkham’s men will advance past the defending champs if their big pack achieves more than parity up front and they somehow restrict the brothers Barrett, Julia Savea and the rest of the Canes’ excitement machines to scoring fewer points than them.

Julian Savea of the Hurricanes

(AAP Image/SNPA, Ross Setford)

That would be a result that would shine more light on the unfairness of the conference system. One that gives the Brumbies home ground advantage despite them winning just six matches, exactly half the number their opponents achieved, during the regular season.

 A system that gave the Canberrans the luxury of fielding essentially a second-string team to lose 10-28 to the Chiefs last weekend with their home playoff spot assured weeks ago, having wrapped up the Aussie conference before the June Test window.

No such luxury for the Canes, who needed all hands on deck and literally all guns blazing to hand the table-topping Crusaders their first Super defeat of the season in a heavy duty slugfest at the Cake Tin last Saturday.

That win came despite losing Beauden Barrett to illness not long before kick off.

Still, if the Brumbies are good enough to turn the heat on the Canes in front of their near-freezing faithful, then the visitors will still only have themselves to blame.


Australian rugby has certainly never needed one of its provinces to win a game of rugby quite like it does the Brumbies to triumph tonight. It would offer a sliver of light in the midst of a very dark season and give Wallabies fans something to cling to with the Bledisloe just around the corner.

In Sam Carter, Rory Arnold and Scott Fardy, in his last home game, the Canberrans certainly possess a lineout to trouble their less lofty opposites. 

And if Tom Banks, Henry Speight and Tevita Kuridrani bring their A-games and get enough opportunities to attack in the right areas they will stress the Hurricanes defence.

They will also draw great strength from having Christian Lealiifano back in their mix. The toughness and determination he has shown to get back to top flight rugby following his cancer diagnosis is nothing short of inspirational.

Christian Lealiifano passes the ball (Photo: John Youngs photography)

(Photo: John Youngs photography)

Still, it’s highly doubtful all of that will be enough to overcome a Hurricanes side living the dream of going back to back.


The last time these two played, in Napier on 21 April, the Canes took a whole half to get their act together, trailing 21-14 at the break. Then cue a Beauden Barrett attacking masterclass with a hand or foot in virtually all six tries of a second-half blitz that saw them romp home 56-21.

Vince Aso, who scored three of those tries, is out injured for this game. However, with Nehe Milner-Skudder back, Ngani Laumape going from strength to strength, Beauden due a big game and his brother Jordie in sublime form, as is Vaea Fifita and Brad Shields up front, the Canes are arguably a better team than they were that night.

The Brumbies will be extremely hard-pressed to get Aussie teams off the dreaded season doughnut.

Another classic South Island derby awaits tomorrow with the Highlanders amping to avenge that stupendous Mitch Hunt injury time drop goal that cost them the game the last time they played the Crusaders.

They travel to Christchurch with talisman Ben Smith back at fullback having sorted out his inner ear issues and looking to exploit a Crusaders outfit suddenly battling with confidence.

After sweeping all before them up to the Test window they have lost two in a row since – the first a shut out by the British and Irish Lions and then tripping at the final Super hurdle against the Canes last week.

Players the calibre of Kieran Read and Sam Whitelock have just gone three matches without a win in either the black or red and black jersey, so this is unfamiliar territory for them. 


Conversely, the ‘Landers are flying high after their electric performance in dispatching the Reds at home last weekend. 

But they will be confronting a big response from the home side tomorrow with the all-All Black tight five back in business and desperately needing to reverse their reputational slide.

Another Mainland doozy awaits.

Crusaders Israel Dagg runs after the ball

(AP Photo/Mark Baker)

And a quick note on that epic All Black versus British and Irish Lions series. As a Kiwi, I’ve found it interesting to keep a check on my own emotions in the aftermath of that dramatic third Test.

Initially, it was shock and anger at the draw and the controversial nature it was conceived. But that soon turned to acceptance that a drawn series was the fairest outcome of that titanic contest.

It’s highly unusual for me to feel so benign after watching the All Blacks fail to win two Tests in a row, but that’s exactly how I feel with the benefit of a couple of weeks’ hindsight. 

The All Blacks were corralled by the smartest, most brutally executed defensive system they have come up against and they struggled to cope with it to the extent that their goal-kicking frailties were highlighted in sharp relief.

If they had jagged a series victory with a two or three-try to nil win in that final Test those deficiencies would have been noted, but still papered over. Now they are open cracks, clearly exposed and unavoidable. A very timely wake-up call for Steve Hansen and co mid World-Cup cycle.


As always, how they respond will be enlightening. And that doesn’t make Michael Cheika’s already very tough job any easier.