Round 16 of Super Rugby will draw to a close on Sunday when the Brumbies and Sunwolves meet in an intriguing Australian Conference clash.
The Brumbies know they simply have to be victorious in order to keep pace with the Rebels in what looks a tough race for a play-off spot. Currently they’re 10 points behind the Melbourne side, who appear the only team presently in the mix in trouble of missing the knockouts.
The Sunwolves meanwhile have no pressure on their shoulders and that could spell danger for the Brumbies, with Jamie Joseph’s men showing in previous weeks they are now capable of picking up wins in this competition. Remember, they beat the Reds and Stormers not so long ago.
The visitors welcome back several players after making changes from those wins for their most recent loss at the Rebels, so they should be fresh and eager to press hard for a third win. As always though a great deal rests on the shoulders of New Zealand fly-half Hayden Parker.
Driving the Brumbies – besides keeping the heat on the Rebels – will no doubt be the fact they haven’t won back-to-back Super Rugby games in a year and with the men from Canberra having won each of the previous two games between these teams, they have previous form on their side. The Sunwolves also having not yet won a Super Rugby match on the road will also bode well.
Adding to the intrigue though is the fact the Brumbies have lost their last three games on home soil – to the Jaguares, Crusaders and Rebels – so if the Sunwolves can get their noses in front that could make for a nervy atmosphere at GIO Stadium, as Joseph’s men look to cause a shock.
The last time the teams met: Their Round Two meeting in Tokyo saw the Brumbies win 32-25 in a close-fought encounter. The Aussie side’s tries came via Lachlan McCaffrey, Kyle Godwin, Tevita Kuridrani, Joshua Mann-Rea and Tom Banks as they came from behind to prevail. The Sunwolves’ tries were scored by Hosea Saumaki (2) and Timothy Lafaele as they could not convert a 19-15 lead at the break into a win.
McInerney, who has won two Brumbies caps off the bench, will start in place of the suspended Folau Fainga’a, the only change from the starting XV that defeated the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria last Saturday.
The only other change comes on the bench where prop Ben Alexander, the 150-cap veteran, is selected amongst the Brumbies finishers alongside the same players who came off the bench to such fantastic effect in the win over the Bulls.
Wallabies front-rowers Scott Sio and Allan Alaalatoa will provide plenty of experience either side of McInerney with Blake Enever and Sam Carter forming an all-international partnership in the lock department.
There’s a bagful of talent in the back-row as well with Lachlan McCaffrey and David Pocock offering mobility and dynamism alongside the raw power and physicality of number eight Isi Naisarani.
The back-line has a settled feel, with the same group that tore apart the Bulls with 14-men given another chance to impress. Joe Powell and Christian Lealiifano continue at half-back with Kyle Godwin and Tevita Kuridrani in the centres.
Out wide, Andy Muirhead and Tom Banks, who both scored sparkling tries in Pretoria are on the left wing and at full-back respectively, with Henry Speight completing the back three.
Sunwolves head coach Jamie Joseph has rung the changes to his starting line-up for the Super Rugby clash in Canberra.
There are 10 alterations in all – including two positional switches – from the run-on side which suffered a 40-13 defeat to the Rebels in their Round 15 encounter in Melbourne last weekend.
Three of those changes were enforced with Grant Hattingh (concussion), Michael Little (knee) and Hosea Samaki (knee) all sidelined through injury.
In the back-line, Robbie Robertson comes in at full-back in place of Jason Emery, who slots in at outside centre where he takes over from Little while Sione Teaupa comes in for Saumaki on the left wing.
The other changes in the backs sees Semisi Masirewa and Harumichi Tatekawa replacing Lomano Lemeki and Ryoto Nakamura on the right wing and at inside centre respectively.
In the forwards, Willie Britz comes in as Hattingh’s replacement on the blindside flank while Ed Quirk moves from number eight to the openside flank with Rahboni Warren Vosayako taking Quirk’s spot at the back of the scrum.
In the second-row, Sam Wykes replaces Shinya Makabe while up front, Hencus van Wyk and Atsushi Sakate are preferred to Jiwon Koo and Jaba Bregvadze as the starting tighthead prop and hooker respectively.
2018: Brumbies won 32-25 in Tokyo
2016: Brumbies won 66-05 in Canberra
Brumbies: 15 Tom Banks, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Andy Muirhead, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 David Pocock, 6 Lachlan McCaffrey, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Blake Enever, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Connal Mcinerney, 1 Scott Sio
Replacements: 16 TBC, 17 Nic Mayhew, 18 Ben Alexander, 19 Richie Arnold, 20 Tom Cusack, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 Wharenui Hawera, 23 Andrew Smith
Sunwolves: 15 Robbie Robinson, 14 Semisi Masirewa, 13 Jason Emery, 12 Harumichi Tatekawa, 11 Sione Teaupa, 10 Hayden Parker, 9 Keisuke Uchida, 8 Rahboni Warren Vosayako, 7 Edward Quirk, 6 Willie Britz (c), 5 Sam Wykes, 4 James Moore, 3 Hencus van Wyk, 2 Atsushi Sakate, 1 Craig Millar
Replacements: 16 Jaba Bregvadze, 17 Alex Woonton, 18 Nikoloz Khatiashvili, 19 Shunsuke Nunomaki, 20 Fetuani Lautaimi, 21 Kaito Shigeno, 22 Gerhard van den Heever, 23 Kai Ishii
Date: Sunday, June 3
Venue: GIO Stadium, Canberra
Kick-off: 16:05 local (06:05 GMT)
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Will Houston (Australia), Graham Cooper (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)