The Brumbies will be looking to arrest a two-match losing streak when they host the Sharks at GIO Stadium in Canberra on Saturday.
After a routine opening-day win over the Sunwolves, last year’s Australian Conference winners have suffered morale-sapping defeats to Australian rivals the Reds and Rebels.
They are a side in danger of being left behind as those around them make significant strides. No longer is it the favoured destination for Australian players, with ex-Force players mainly opting for the other Australian franchises.
They used to be a tough nut to crack, especially at home, but recent form dictates otherwise. The men from Canberra haven’t won a home game against a team from outside Australia since Round 14, 2016 (v Sunwolves), losing six such matches since.
Meanwhile, the Sharks have left with competition points from all but one of their last seven games in Australia, picking up four wins and two losing bonus-points in that time.
They are an improved side this season, having strengthened with the key acquisitions of fly-half Robert du Preez and winger Makazole Mapimpi.
Du Preez has the highest game-points ratio with 36 in three, while only two players have made more clean breaks than Mapimpi (8) this season, the speedster having played just twice.
Although the Brumbies lost 33-10 to the unbeaten Rebels in Melbourne last weekend, Du Preez admitted that they won’t be taking the former champions lightly.
“After reviewing their game against the Rebels, the Brumbies were unlucky not to have scored a few more tries,” he explained from the team’s base in Australia.
“We know it’s going to be a very tough game in Canberra. They want to get their campaign going and for us it’s really important to have a good start to our tour.
“We shouldn’t be reading too much into that loss, this is a really good Brumbies team with a formidable pack of forwards who like to drive and like to play a lot of rugby, it’s going to be a big, big game on Saturday and we want to get our tour off to a great start.
“We’ve seen a lot of line-out driving from them, they probably play a bit more than they did in the past and they’re not scared to run the ball out of their own 22.
“If you give them any opportunities or scraps, they will really pounce on that. We are going to have to be on top of our game to make sure we control it the way we want; we need to dominate, that’s where it’s all going to start. We need to bring big physicality, that’s really important for us.”
Team news: There are a trio of changes in both the backs and the forwards for the test against the South African franchise, a repeat fixture of the Brumbies initial home match of the 2017 season.
With hooker Josh Mann-Rea sidelined for a lengthy period with a bad hamstring injury, and fellow rake Robbie Abel also unavailable, there’s a Super Rugby starting debut for Folau Fainga’a who was mightily impressive when coming on as a replacement in Melbourne.
The other forward changes see Blake Enever into the starting team in place of Sam Carter, packing down at lock alongside Rory Arnold, whilst there’s a straight swap in the back-row as Tom Cusack comes in for Lolo Fakaosilea who is included on a strong looking bench.
In the backs, boss Dan McKellar has opted for an interesting 10-12 combination with Wharenui Hawera selected at fly-half and Christian Lealiifano moving to inside centre in place of Kyle Godwin.
There’s also two changes in the back three as Henry Speight is the only player from the match at AAMI Park to retain his spot. Lausii Taliauli is drafted into the left wing position in place of Chance Peni, whilst Andrew Muirhead makes his first Super Rugby start from full-back.
Amongst the replacements, there are three more new faces from the defeat to the Rebels as Nic Mayhew returns at back-up prop in place of Faalelei Sione, with utility back James Dargaville named for the first time this season.
And we may yet see a new member of the Brumbies family with hooker Connal McInerney, who played for local club Royals in the John I Dent Cup Grand Final winning side last season, set to win his maiden Brumbies cap from the bench having played superbly well in the trial match win over the Rebels in Queanbeyan.
Meanwhile, Sharks head coach Robert du Preez has made two alterations to his starting line-up.
There is one change apiece to the forwards and backline. Thomas du Toit returns to pack down at tighthead prop with John-Hubert Meyer shifting to the bench, and out on the wing, sees a rotational change with Kobus van Wyk replacing Sbu Nkosi.
2017: Sharks won 27-22 in Canberra
2014: Brumbies won 16-09 in Canberra
2013: Brumbies won 29-10 in Durban
2012: Sharks won 29-26 in Canberra
2011: Sharks won 34-16 in Durban
2010: Brumbies won 24-22 in Canberra
2009: Sharks won 35-14 in Durban
2008: Brumbies won 27-21 in Canberra
Brumbies: 15 Andrew Muirhead, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Lausii Taliauli, 10 Wharenui Hawera, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Tom Cusack, 6 Lachlan McCaffrey, 5 Blake Enever, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 Scott Sio
Replacements: 16 Connal McInerney, 17 Nic Mayhew, 18 Leslie Leuluaialii-Makin, 19 Richie Arnold, 20 Lolo Fakaosilea, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 James Dargaville, 23 Tom Banks
Sharks: 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Tera Mtembu, 7 Jacques Vermeulen, 6 Wian Vosloo, 5 Stephan Lewis, 4 Ruan Botha (c), 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 John-Hubert Meyer, 19 Tyler Paul, 20 Jean-Luc du Preez, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Marius Louw, 23 Lwazi Mvovo
Date: Saturday, March 17
Venue: GIO Stadium
Kick-off: 19:45 local (08:45 GMT)
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: William Houston (Australia), James Leckie (Australia)
TMO: Ian Smith (Australia)