The Brumbies will hope to end a run of two straight Super Rugby losses when they take on the Blues at GIO Stadium in Canberra this Sunday.
Despite this match seeing Australia’s top outfit host a Blues side sitting bottom of the table in New Zealand, they both sit on 17 points. That is a measure of how far ahead the Kiwi teams have been of their rivals and this game is a perfect opportunity to emphasise that fact.
If the Blues do prevail on Sunday, which they are more than capable of doing, it would bring to an end a nightmare April for the Brumbies. After beating the Reds, they have gone down to the Rebels and most recently the Hurricanes, who thumped them 56-21 in Napier last weekend.
Those results have opened the door to their fellow countrymen in the race for Australia’s play-off spot. Lose again and the sprint is on.
The Blues haven’t had things their own way though as they too enter on the back of successive defeats, going down to the Highlanders and Hurricanes. However, those results were close-run and one gets the feeling they could well conquer Canberra with the talent they possess.
What may give the Brumbies hope of bouncing back is that they have won four of their last six home matches against the Blues, including a 26-9 win when they last met in Canberra in Round 8 of 2014. However, they have lost their last four home games against New Zealand teams.
Furthermore the form of the Blues on the road could also play a factor as they’ve won just four of their last 34 fixtures away from home (D1, L29), though three of those four victories came in Australia. Throw in being fresh after a bye and the Blues can pick up the points.
Being without the influential Jerome Kaino is a setback but Akira Ioane, who has been waiting patiently on the bench, gets a start in his spot and is sure to relish that. Meanwhile the last time his brother, Rieko, played in Australia he scored a hat-trick. The Brumbies have been warned, but against the talent this Blues outfit boast, stopping what is to come from their strike runners is easier said than done.
The last time the teams met: The Blues were comfortable winners in Auckland last year, running out to a 40-15 victory as tries from Jerome Kaino (2), James Parsons, Sam Prattley and Matt Duffie (2) saw them prevail. Piers Francis slotted five from five while the Brumbies could only record a penalty try and one from Matt Toomua, with Christian Leali’ifano kicking five points via a conversion and penalty in defeat.
Team news: Brumbies hooker Josh Mann-Rea will make his 50th appearance for the Super Rugby franchise on Sunday. Tom Banks makes his first start of the season at full-back after being recalled to the starting XV. Banks, who made his debut for the club against the Reds on the left wing, reverts to the full-back position in place of Aidan Toua, in one of a trio of changes to the starting team. With prop Scott Sio out injured, Nic Mayhew will begin against his former club at loosehead alongside Wallaby international Allan Alaalatoa and Mann-Rea. Lolo Fakaosilea returns to the team at number eight in place of Jarrad Butler who is on the bench alongside the likes of Toua and Ben Alexander.
Loose forward Akira Ioane has an opportunity to shine when he starts in Canberra. Ioane has big shoes to fill for his third start of the season at number eight, with the inspirational Jerome Kaino ruled out due to injury. It is the only change in the pack from the last game against the Hurricanes before the bye, with All Black Steven Luatua moving to his preferred blindside flanker role, and Ioane taking over at eight. All Black prop Ofa Tu’ungafasi will reach his milestone of 50 games for the Blues, when he gets a likely call off the bench this weekend, while newly selected English international, fly-half Piers Francis, reaches his 20th and blazer game. Midfielder George Moala is recalled to the starting line-up to form an All Black centre combination with Sonny Bill Williams, as Rieko Ioane moves to the left wing.
Form: Despite only winning three games the Brumbies sit seven points clear of their nearest rival, the Reds, in the Australian Conference. The Canberra side have beaten the Force, Waratahs and Reds this year so have therefore yet to beat an opponent from outside their country.
The Blues have also won three and lost five so far in the Super Rugby season with all those defeats coming against New Zealand opposition. That leaves them well off the pace in their domestic Conference, with their only wins coming against the Rebels, Bulls and Western Force.
2016: Blues won 40-15 in Auckland
2015: Blues won 16-14 in Auckland
2014: Brumbies won 26-9 in Canberra
2013: Brumbies won 20-13 in Auckland
2012: Blues won 30-16 in Canberra
2010: Blues won 39-34 in Auckland
2009: Brumbies won 37-15 in Canberra
2008: Brumbies won 16-11 in Auckland
Brumbies: 15 Tom Banks, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Andrew Smith, 11 James Dargaville, 10 Wharenui Hawera, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Lolo Fakaosilea, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter (c), 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Josh Mann-Rea, 1 Nic Mayhew
Replacements: 16 Robbie Abel, 17 Ben Alexander, 18 Leslie Leulua’iali’i-Makin, 19 Blake Enever, 20 Jarrad Butler, 21 De Wet Roos, 22 Jordan Jackson-Hope, 23 Aidan Toua
Blues: 15 Michael Collins, 14 Matt Duffie, 13 George Moala, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Piers Francis, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Scott Scrafton, 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons (c), 1 Pauliasi Manu
Replacements: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Leighton Price, 20 Murphy Taramai, 21 Billy Guyton, 22 Bryn Gatland, 23 Melani Nanai
Date: Sunday, April 30
Venue: GIO Stadium
Kick-off: 16:05 local (06:05 GMT)
Referee: Nick Briant (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Ed Martin (Australia), James Leckie (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)