The Brumbies host the Waratahs in a match which pits Australia’s two most successful Super Rugby franchises against each other.
How times change, however, with both teams attempting to rekindle past glories. While the Canberra outfit qualified for the play-offs in 2017, they won just six of the 15 regular-season matches and were promptly ousted by the Hurricanes at the quarter-final stage.
Daryl Gibson’s men fared even worse, winning only four encounters in what was an atrocious year. All in all, it was a pretty embarrassing campaign for the Australian sides but it was compounded by the form of those previously dominant outfits.
To their credit, the early signs are better this time around, particularly for the ‘Tahs who appear far more potent. With Israel Folau, Kurtley Beale and Bernard Foley in the backline, it is the least you would expect, but they look far brighter in 2018.
It is therefore a case of attack versus defence after the Brumbies’ efforts in their opening four matches. Saturday’s hosts have conceded just eight clean breaks, fewer than any other team, and restricted the Reds and the Sharks to under 20 points.
Dan McKellar’s charges do not lack for talent behind the scrum either, with Tevita Kuridrani, Henry Speight and Christian Lealiifano all international class, but they have struggled for fluidity.
Lealiifano, who started the season as first choice fly-half, has since been moved to centre. That allowed Wharenui Hawera to start at pivot against the Sharks and it paid immediate dividends with the Brumbies emerging 24-17 triumphant.
The hosts should also be stronger at the breakdown following the return of David Pocock. He has not played for the franchise since 2016 but the flanker’s return coincides with the back-rower going head-to-head against fellow Australia openside Michael Hooper.
They may well line up together for the Wallabies in a combination which proved so effective during the 2015 World Cup, but for now it is about helping their side close the gap on Conference leaders, the Melbourne Rebels.
Team news: The return of David Pocock is the headline news, with the flanker lining up alongside Lachlan McCaffrey and Isi Naisarani in the Brumbies back-row. It will be the Australian international’s 100th Super Rugby match having been a vital component at both the Western Force and the Canberra-based side.
It is their only change from the XV that defeated the Sharks in round five, but there are several alterations among the replacements due to injury and unavailability. Former Force front-row Mees Erasmus could make his debut and he is joined on the bench by Robbie Abel and Faalelei Sione. Richie Arnold, Matt Lucas and Tom Banks remain from the previous encounter, but Tom Cusack and Kyle Godwin will look to impress should they get onto the field.
For the Waratahs, boss Daryl Gibson has made two changes with Taqele Naiyaravoro coming onto the wing – Curtis Rona shifting to centre instead of Lalakai Foketi – and Jake Gordon replacing Mitchell Short at scrum-half.
Short therefore takes his position on the bench alongside Foketi and boss Gibson is looking forward to the encounter. “For the Australian derbies, the conference is incredibly tight,” he said.
“It makes every away game an opportunity to get points as it looks like every team is strong at home. Australian derbies are competitive and fierce and I see this one being no different.
“We’ve had a bye and so have the Brumbies, and it’s a time where you reflect on where you are at and where you can improve.”
2017: Brumbies won 28-12 in Sydney
2016: Brumbies won 26-20 in Sydney
2016: Brumbies won 32-15 in Canberra
2015: Waratahs won 13-10 in Canberra
2015: Waratahs won 28-13 in Sydney
2014: Waratahs won 26-08 in Sydney
2014: Waratahs won 39-08 in Sydney
2014: Brumbies won 28-23 in Canberra
2013: Waratahs won 28-22 in Sydney
2013: Brumbies won 35-06 in Canberra
Brumbies: 15 Andy Muirhead, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Lausii Taliauli, 10 Wharenui Hawera, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 David Pocock, 6 Lachlan McCaffrey, 5 Blake Enever, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 Scott Sio
Replacements: 16 Robbie Abel, 17 Faalelei Sione, 18 Mees Erasmus, 19 Richie Arnold, 20 Tom Cusack, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 Kyle Godwin, 23 Tom Banks
Waratahs: 15 Bryce Hegarty, 14 Israel Folau, 13 Curtis Rona, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Jed Holloway, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Michael Wells, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Ned Hanigan, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick, 1 Tom Robertson
Replacements: 16 Hugh Roach, 17 Harry Johnson-Holmes, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Tom Staniforth, 20 Will Miller, 21 Mitchell Short, 22 Lalakai Foketi, 23 Alex Newsome
Date: Saturday, March 31
Venue: GIO Stadium, Canberra
Kick-off: 19:45 local (08:45 GMT)
Referee: Paul Williams (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Nicholas Berry (Australia), James Leckie (Australia)
TMO: Damien Mitchelmore (Australia)