The two undefeated teams of Super Rugby will meet at AAMI Park on Friday night, as the Brumbies travel to meet the Melbourne Rebels in the second round of the 2013 season.
It was a solid, if scrappy, performance from the Melbourne boys against the Western Force last week. The Force proved more than a handful for the first twenty minutes, piling on eleven unanswered points. From then on, however, the Rebels composed themselves, regained and held possession, running away in the second half to win 30-23.
Nick Phipps was a livewire in attack — with a vastly improved kicking game — and Ged Robinson was a workhorse up front. The team’s lineouts and scrums have improved markedly, but for the most part, the ball seemed to get trapped in the breakdown, or dispatched straight to the outside backs — perhaps best demonstrated by a visibly furious Kurtley Beale in the post-game huddle.
Nevertheless, by calmly work their way back into a contest, after conceding a double-digit lead to the Force, it was a prescient display of mental fortitude from the Melbourne side, a team that lost five games in 2012 by less than seven points. Let’s not forget that, for a short period of time, they are (technically) top of the league.
The Brumbies, meanwhile, saluted in a furious battle against the Queensland Reds in Canberra last Saturday. I highly recommend you read Scott Allen‘s cracking analysis of the Brumbies’ efforts in the first round, because we may well look at it later in the year as the blueprint for the Canberrans’ third championship.
They are close to unstoppable at the breakdown in defence, with David Pocock, captain Ben Mowen, and Peter Kimlin able to upset quick recovery of the ball, forcing the Reds into conceding possession without making much territory. Combined with Jesse Mogg’s brilliant kicking game, and patient phased play through the hands in attack, they suck oppositions into conceding the ball, and then dictate the pace of play until they’re in a scoring position. It’s not pretty, but it sure is effective.
Where the Rebels were scrappy last week, the Brumbies were sublime, but these teams match up well on paper. The mouth-watering back row battle of Kimlin v. Fuglistaller, Pocock v. Higginbotham and Mowen v. Delve is reason enough to unplug the kid and put the phone to bed. This is going to be good.
1. Nic Henderson, 2. Ged Robinson, 3. Laurie Weeks, 4. Hugh Pyle, 5. Luke Jones, 6. Scott Higginbotham, 7. Scott Fuglistaller, 8. Gareth Delve (c), 9. Nick Phipps, 10. Kurtley Beale, 11. Richard Kingi, 12. Rory Sidey, 13. Mitch Inman, 14. Lachlan Mitchell, 15. James O’Connor.
Reserves: 16. Paul Alo-Emile, 17. Shota Horie, 18. Cadeyrn Neville, 19. Jarrod Saffy, 20. Nic Stirzaker, 21. Alex Rokobaro, 22. Tom English.
The only change from last week’s victorious side is that Alex Rokobaro, number 22 last week, is now wearing number 21, while Tom English, formerly 21, wears 22. It may seem nondescript now, but just wait until you see the effect that has on the game.
1. Ben Alexander, 2. Stephen Moore, 3. Dan Palmer, 4. Scott Fardy, 5. Sam Carter, 6. Peter Kimlin, 7. David Pocock, 8. Ben Mowen (c), 9. Nic White, 10. Matt Toomua, 11. Clyde Rathbone, 12. Christian Lealiifano, 13. Andrew Smith, 14. Joseph Tomane, 15. Jesse Mogg.
Reserves: 16. Siliva Siliva, 17. Scott Sio, 18. Colby Faingaa, 19. Fotu Auelua, 20. Ian Prior, 21. Tevita Kuridrani, 22. Robbie Coleman.
Joseph Tomane is promoted to the starting XV to cover for Henry Speight’s rib injury, with Tevita Kuridrani on the bench. Ruaidhri Murphy is being rested and Scott Sio joins the bench for the forwards.
This match kicks off at AAMI Park, Melbourne, on Friday at 7.40pm.
These teams have met four times, the Rebels memorably saluting on the first occasion, the Brumbies the next three. In Melbourne, each team has won once.
The last time they met was in round 15 of 2012, with the Brumbies defeating the Rebels 27-19 at AAMI Park.
The game will be telecast live on FOX Sports 2 and 2HD.
The referee for the match is James Leckie, with Angus Gardner and Ian Smith assisting. George Ayoub is watching the box.
THE GAME BREAKER
This match will be won and lost at the breakdown, with both teams approaching the area differently in the first round. While the Brumbies specialise at locking the contest down and forcing teams into a contest, Scott Fuglistaller and Gareth Delve did extremely well to keep ruck contests quick and open, allowing Nick Phipps to run play to the backs.
One thing the Rebels must avoid is the urge to kick in hope. Against the Force, the ball bypassed the inside backs and went to James O’Connor at fullback too quickly. This left him with possession too close to the Force’s defensive line, so he instinctively cleared it and conceded possession. This will play right into the Brumbies’ hands. The Brumbies’ outside backs have a very refined kicking game, and all the likes of Jesse Mogg have to do is position his forwards well enough to give them a sniff, they’ll do the rest.
The winner of this game will be the team who, whilst in possession, plays patient and measured ball, through the hands, over multiple phases. The Brumbies did this extremely well last week, playing the ball for more than five phases six times, and for ten phases twice in the match. The Rebels could only manage four runs of five or more phases, maxing out at six phases.
To have a chance, the Rebels need to hold on to that ball and run it. They have the squad to do it, but do they have the strategy?
THE FEARLESS PREDICTION
The Brumbies should have too much for the Rebels in this match. Their high-pressure defence will prove a tough ask for a team not used to committing numbers at the breakdown, and they should accrue enough possession to win quite comfortably.
However, if the Rebels are committed at the ruck, and patient through the backs, then they have the talent to run at the visitors. The forward pack will have to work overtime, and the inside centres need to impose themselves on the game to a far greater extent than against the Force.
If everything goes to plan for the Rebels, it’s not impossible. But it’s close.
Brumbies by 19.
Will the Brumbies continue their local dominance heading into the bye, or can the Rebels tame the Wild Horses?