Preview: Brumbies v Bulls


The Brumbies will be keen to return to the victory trail when they take on a confident Bulls side in Canberra on Friday.

After an impressive start to the tournament, in which they were the early pacesetters after winning their first three matches, the Brumbies' challenge has stuttered in recent weeks and they know that nothing except a victory will appease their supporters.

They head into this clash two points adrift of the Rebels, who are at the top of the standings in the Australian Conference and know that victory is imperative if they want to remain amongst the contenders for the title.

The late withdrawal through injury of Matt Toomua was a setback for the two-time champions but that has been offset by the return of inspirational hooker and co-captain Stephen Moore.

Toomua's absence puts extra pressure on Christian Lealiifano who, apart from his goalkicking, will be also expected to lead the Brumbies' charge on attack.

Lealiifano highlighted the importance of converting their attacking chances this week.

"We're creating a lot of opportunities, it's just a matter of finishing them off," he said.

"I feel like we're working into our shape rather than looking to create. That's a big onus on the playmakers… and the backs have to light up with opportunities on the edge."

The Bulls have gone quietly about their business this season but showed in their one-sided victory over the Western Force in Perth last weekend that they are a dangerous outfit.

Under new head coach Nollis Marais the men from Pretoria have diverted from their traditional 10-man style of play and are now employing an expansive game-plan.

While they are still a work in progress, they have combined their new style with their traditional strengths and are reaping the rewards. 

The Bulls are currently seventh for tries scored (29) – which is one more than the Brumbies – and are second highest in terms of tackle success (87.1 percent) as well as at the lineouts (92.9 percent).

The last five encounters between these sides have been closely fought affairs despite a high number of total points scored. Only once since a 50-32 Bulls triumph in 2010 has a game between these teams been decided by seven or more points.

The last time these team met: The Brumbies claimed a 22-16 victory in Canberra in Round 16 and the result made a dent in the Bulls' play-off hopes as they ultimately failed to reach the knockout stages. A Jordan Smiler try and Christian Lealiifano penalty cancelled out two Handré Pollard penalties which gave the home side a narrow 8-6 lead at half-time. Two second-half tries from Henry Speight, which Lealiifno converted, secured victory for the Brumbies although the Bulls fought back with a Lappies Labuschagne try and a late Pollard penalty.

Players to watch: Brumbies and Wallabies tearaway David Pocock returned from suspension against the Highlanders last weekend, but didn't have as big an influence as expected in that match. Pocock is a class act and his prowess at the breakdown is well documented. He's also a potent ball carrier who brings plenty of energy to the Brumbies cause. The Bulls will have to keep him in check if they want to win this clash.

Bulls midfielder Jan Serfontein was back to his best in their last match, scoring two tries in their win at the Force. Apart from his try-scoring exploits, Serfontein also impressed as a playmaker and is showing the same form which made him a fixture in the Springbok team a couple of seasons ago.

Team news: Brumbies head coach Stephen Larkham has made five changes to his starting XV. Tomás Cubelli and Christian Lealiifano remain the half-back pairing while the versatile Robbie Coleman gets his first start at inside centre after Matt Toomua – who was initially named to start – was ruled out with a knee injury while James Dargaville gets promoted from the bench into the left wing position. Flankers David Pocock and Scott Fardy start alongside number eight Jarrad Butler in the back row. Rory Arnold replaces Tom Staniforth in the second row while Wallaby captain Stephen Moore returns from injury to pack down alongside Ben Alexander and Scott Sio in a new-look front row.

Bulls head coach Nollis Marais named an unchanged team after last weekend's triumph over the Western Force in Perth. There is one change on the bench, with Dan Kriel getting his first run on tour and Dries Swanepoel dropping out of matchday squad. Jason Jenkins has not recovered from his niggle and was not considered, but Bjorn Basson overcame an ankle sprain and is fit to face the Australians. Springbok hooker captains the side.

Form: The Brumbies are in the midst of a mini slump in recent weeks. After beating the Waratahs 26-20 in their Australian derby in Sydney in Round Eight, they suffered a heavy 40-14 defeat against the Crusaders in Canberra, and came off second best against the Highlanders in Invercargill last weekend, going down 23-10.

The Bulls head into this encounter brimming with confidence after winning six and drawing one of their last seven fixtures. They kicked off their Australian tour in style with an impressive 42-20 victory over the Western Force last week. Prior to that, they had a bye in Round Nine which were preceded by impressive performances during convincing triumphs over the Kings and Reds.

Prediction: This is set to be a closely contested match and don't be surprised if it goes down to the wire. We're backing the Brumbies to win by three points!

Previous results:

2015: Brumbies won 22-16 in Canberra
2014: Bulls won 44-23 in Pretoria
2013: Brumbies won 26-23 in Pretoria (semi-final)
2013: Brumbies won 23-20 in Canberra
2012: Brumbies won 36-34 in Pretoria
2010: Bulls won 50-32 in Pretoria
2009: Brumbies won 32-31 in Canberra
2008: Bulls won 28-17 in Pretoria

The teams:

Brumbies: 15 Aidan Toua, 14 Nigel Ah Wong, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Robbie Coleman, 11 James Dargaville, 10 Christian Lealiifano (cc), 9 Tomás Cubelli, 8 Jarrad Butler, 7 David Pocock, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore (cc), 1 Scott Sio 
Replacements: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 Allan Alaalatoa, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Tom Staniforth, 20 Blake Enever, 21 Jordan Smiler, 22 Joe Powell, 23 Lausii Taliauli

Bulls: 15 SP Marais, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Hanro Liebenberg, 7 Arno Botha, 6 Lappies Labuschagne, 5 RG Snyman, 4 Marvin Orie, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Trevor Nyakane
Replacements: 16 Bandise Maku, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 Jannes Kirsten, 20 Roelof Smit, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Tian Schoeman, 23 Dan Kriel

Date: Friday, May 6
Venue: GIO Stadium, Canberra
Kick-off: 19:45 local (09:45 GMT)
Referee: Ben O'Keeffe
Assistant Referees: Will Houston, Ed Martin
TMO: Peter Marshall