Preview: Brumbies v Chiefs


Make no mistake, this could well be a rehearsal for this year's Super Rugby final as the Brumbies host the Chiefs in Canberra on Saturday.

Both are playing impressive, yet contrasting styles of rugby and few have been able to live with either's brand so far in the new season.

Only the Stormers and Lions respectively have pinched a win against the duo but overall they, along with the Highlanders, have stood out. Star players have included David Pocock, Christian Lealiifano, Damian McKenzie and Charlie Ngatai and many cannot wait for this showdown.

The numbers point to a cracking game as the Chiefs have scored 200 points in five matches and also lead the way with tries (28). McKenzie tops the points scoring standings on 85, with Lealiifano next on the chart with 57. The Brumbies meanwhile boast 151 points and 19 tries.

Stephen Larkham's charges seem nailed on to top the Australian Group even at this early stage, but things are not so clear cut for their visitors against New Zealand's other in-form three sides. A significant positive for them though is that their hectic travels have ended.

Because of their strong start on the road and the fact their season run-in is close to home, things are looking up for the Chiefs and if they could possibly end a dismal losing run in Canberra that dates back to 2008, talk of mounting a serious title challenge would louden. That would be some achievement in early April especially after losing Liam Messam and Sonny Bill Williams to Sevens and others elsewhere.

As mentioned, beating the Brumbies on home soil will be a tough ask when viewing the form book – the Australians have lost just twice to the Chiefs in Canberra since Super Rugby began. But how will they cope with their own long journey from Bloemfontein and a mixed showing against the Cheetahs? Subplots aplenty then for a game that if it lives up to half of its potential will offer a great deal to spectators.

The last time these teams met: The Chiefs won 19-17 in New Plymouth last season as a try from Charlie Ngatai and the boot of Aaron Cruden got the better of the Brumbies, whose try scorer was Ita Vaea. Christian Lealiifano and Nic White added 12 points from the tee in defeat.

Players to watch: For the Brumbies keep an eye on scrum-half Tomás Cubelli as he has slotted in well since arriving in the off-season. If he can control a pack going forward – which should help limit the Chiefs backline – the Puma must then make the right decisions to amplify his eight's good work. Of course David Pocock's threat cannot be ignored and his personal battle with Sam Cane is going to be a good watch.

It is no surprise our player to watch in Chiefs colours is Damian McKenzie after his electric start to 2016. New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen has also been impressed by the youngster so another positive outing here would add further weight to calls to give him a Test bow.

Team news: Brumbies head coach Stephen Larkham has named an unchanged starting line-up for Saturday's top-of-the-table clash. The bench features three changes from the team that defeated the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein last week. Josh Mann-Rea returns to the squad following a one-week suspension, Leslie Leulua'iali'i-Makin also returns and scrum-half Joe Powell comes into the 23 for the first time this season.

Meanwhile, the Chiefs have made two changes to their backline with Anton Lienert-Brown returning from injury to start at outside centre. Toni Pulu gets an opportunity to impress on the right wing. There are three changes to the reserves with Maama Vaipulu coming in as back-row cover, Seta Tamanivalu wearing jersey 22 and utility-back Shaun Stevenson making his return to the squad after an injury in round one.

Form: Both teams have four wins from five games but the Brumbies' latest victory was hardly clinical against the Cheetahs. Meanwhile, it was an outstanding second-half from the Chiefs that demolished the Force last week, with Charlie Ngatai claiming four scores in the win.

Prediction: Their record against the Chiefs at home simply cannot be ignored, despite their visitors form. Brumbies to edge this by two.

Previous results:

2015: Chiefs won 19-17 in New Plymouth
2014: Brumbies won 32-30 in Canberra
2014: Brumbies won 41-23 in Canberra
2013: Chiefs won 27-22 in Hamilton
2012: Chiefs won 29-22 in Hamilton

The teams:

Brumbies: 15 Aidan Toua, 14 Joe Tomane, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Robbie Coleman, 10 Christian Lealiifano (cc), 9 Tomás Cubelli, 8 Ita Vaea, 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 Leslie Leulua'iali'i-Makin, 19 Tom Staniforth, 20 Jordan Smiler, 21 Joe Powell, 22 James Dargaville, 23 Nigel Ah Wong

Chiefs: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (cc), 9 Brad Weber, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Sam Cane (cc), 6 Tom Sanders, 5 Taleni Seu, 4 Michael Allardice, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Mitchell Graham
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Atu Moli, 18 Siegfried Fisi’ihoi, 19 James Tucker, 20 Maama Vaipulu, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Seta Tamanivalu, 23 Shaun Stevenson

Date: Saturday, April 2
Venue: GIO Stadium, Canberra
Kick-off: 19:40 local (08:40 GMT)
Referee: Angus Gardner
Assistant Referees: William Houston, James Leckie
TMO: Ian Smith