The Australian conference-leading ACT Brumbies will travel up the Hume Highway to meet arch-rivals the Waratahs, whose season is hanging by a thread.
The Waratahs rebounded from a string of disappointing losses to roll the Rebels in Melbourne last weekend, in what was perhaps their most impressive win since knocking off the Crusaders in March. Their forwards set a decent platform, and the backline was able to take full advantage putting together some damaging set-piece moves. They remain 3rd on the conference ladder 5 points adrift of the men from Melbourne who travel to Christchurch for Super Ruby’s toughest assignment.
The Brumbies are the form team in the Aussie conference after winning six of their last seven games. They comfortably accounted for the Sunwolves last week in Tokyo. Perhaps most impressively, for the first time this year, they were able to show both sides of their game in the one match. Three of their tries came from their dominant rolling maul, while the remainder were courtesy of free-flowing backline play led by Tevita Kurandrani and Henry Speight. Despite the Tahs having won five of the last eight meetings between the sides, The Canberrans have won the previous two encounters with the Brumbies dominating the finals-bound Tahs in the corresponding fixture last year, before sneaking home in a tight battle in the nation’s capital in round five, 2019.
Just the one change to the NSW side to run onto BankWest Stadium with Ned Hanigan ruled out following a head knock in the 20-15 win last week. After struggling in a troublesome defeat for Easts in the Shute Shield last weekend, Tom Staniforth is the surprise inclusion in the 2nd row with Jed Holloway remaining on the bench. In another very intriguing move, Daryl Gibson has opted not to rest any of his front-line stars, naming Kurtley Beale, Bernard Foley, Rob Simmons, Sekope Kepu and captain Micheal Hooper. The five Wallabies all have one more mandatory rest week to go to meet Micheal Cheika’s mandatory resting policy demand. This means all of them will have to sit out next week’s trip to Invercargill and with the Highlanders only one point adrift of the Tahs the clash could effectively be worth double points in the race for a finals spot. Only time will tell if this is the right move from the Waratahs management.
Two changes for the Brumbies with Rob Valentini welcomed back into the starting XV taking the place of Jahrome Brown who has dropped back to the pine. It is the 116kg wreakingball’s first start in 12 weeks after he injured his knee in round 5 against the Waratahs. Out wide, Andy Muirhead will line up on the right wing in place of Henry Speight.
Rory Arnold vs Rob Simmons.
With Izack Rodda all but assured of a spot in the Wallabies 2nd row, this matchup on Saturday night could effectively be seen as a shootout for who will partner him for the first test match at Suncorp Stadium in June. Both Arnold and Simmons are enjoying career-best years. The much-maligned Simmons has been carrying and hitting with more venom than in 2019, thereby thrusting himself into Rugby World Cup calculations. Arnold has always had physical presence but has been let down by inconsistent performances in the past. He seems to have addressed these issues with the 2.08m giant one of the form locks in the competition throughout 2019.
Tevita Kurindrani vs Adam Ashley Cooper
Up until two months ago outside centre was shaping up as a real area of concern for Micheal Chieka and his new posse. Tevita Kurindrani has surged back in to form since then and is now the clear front runner to line up at 13, provided the selectors make the right move and pick Kerevi at 12. As if sensing his opportunity of heading to a 4th world cup was slipping away, AAC has upped his game in recent weeks. He saved his best performance so far this season for the Rebels last week turning in a dominant display opposite Rebels gun Reece Hodge. While His defence has been sound throughout 2019, it was his footwork that put Jack Maddocks on skates in the lead up to Curtis Rona’s try that would have had Micheal Chieka thinking twice about not including the veteran in his plans for Japan.
WARATAHS (15-1): Kurtley Beale, Alex Newsome, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Lalakai Foketi, Curtis Rona, Bernard Foley, Nick Phipps, Michael Wells, Michael Hooper (c), Lachlan Swinton, Rob Simmons, Tom Staniforth, Sekope Kepu, Damien Fitzpatrick, Tom Robertson
Reserves: Tolu Latu, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Chris Talakai, Jed Holloway, Will Miller, Jake Gordon, Tautalatasi Tasi, Cameron Clark
BRUMBIES (15-1): Tom Banks, Andy Muirhead, Tevita Kuridrani, Irae Simone, Toni Pulu, Christian Lealiifano (c), Joe Powell, Pete Samu, Tom Cusack, Rob Valetini, Sam Carter, Rory Arnold, Allan Alaalatoa, Folau Fainga’a, James Slipper
Reserves: Connal McInerney, Scott Sio, Leslie Leuleaiaii-Makin, Darcy Swain, Lachlan McCaffrey, Jahrome Brown, Matt Lucas, Tom Wright
It should be a close encounter at Parramatta with the Tahs desperate to keep their finals hopes alive. The Brumbies have been the more reliable proposition throughout 2019 plus they have a far superior bench to that of the Tahs. With the second overall seed still up for grabs will have enough motivation to get the job done on Saturday night in a nailbiter.
Brumbies by 2…