Preview: Brumbies v Hurricanes


The Brumbies will be looking to banish the memories of last year's semi-final loss when they host the Hurricanes at GIO Stadium on Friday.

Well beaten by 29 points to 9 in Wellington, the Brumbies saw their 2015 challenge come to a close last June as the Hurricanes marched on.

It was to be disappointment though for the 'Canes against the Highlanders, but nothing should be taken away from what was an excellent year.

Backing that up and then going one better in 2016 without the services of Ben Franks, Jeremy Thrush, Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith is now the task ahead and there are few reasons to think they can't do it, as head coach Chris Boyd has players at their peak who can unlock defences at will.

New blood comes in the form of centres Ngani Laumape and Vince Aso but it will be the usual suspects of Brad Shields, TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett, Julian Savea and Nehe Milner-Skudder who will create the magic. Meanwhile, under-rated props Reggie Goodes and Jeffery Toomaga-Allen will also have a large part to play this weekend and onwards alongside hooker Leni Apisai, who comes in for the injured Dane Coles.

Their hosts are also once again looking like challengers for the crown and in many respects they are where the 'Canes were at this point last year, with Brumbies stalwarts poised to move on at the end of the campaign. They are Matt Toomua (Leicester Tigers) and David Pocock.

Losing the threat of Jesse Mogg is a blow but Joe Tomane, Henry Speight and Tevita Kuridrani are all deadly in possession while there's a strong spine from the front-row to half-back. That's why many have made them favourites out of the Australian sides and we don't disagree.

Topping their country's group will of course be key in order to secure their passage to the knockouts and what better way to get the ball rolling than with a win on Friday. That will be easier said than done ahead of what promises to be a thrilling fixture on Australian soil.

The last time these teams met: The Hurricanes ended a run of four meetings without a win over the Brumbies by overcoming them in the Super Rugby semi-final in Wellington. Tries from Julian Savea, TJ Perenara, Ardie Savea and Matt Proctor secured the 29-9 win as the 'Canes went on to the final. The Brumbies' only points came via the boot of Jesse Mogg and Christian Lealiifano in a poor showing at Westpac Stadium.

Players to Watch: As mentioned, in his final season before heading to the Premiership, Matt Toomua will be desperate to go out with a title at the Brumbies. The centre has all the tools as a midfield foil for his fly-half and Stephen Larkham's coaching has certainly helped his game. Also keep an eye on new scrum-half Tomás Cubelli as he goes up against TJ Perenara in one of the mouth-watering battles this weekend. Perenara shone last year alongside Beauden Barrett and keeping those two stars fit and firing is crucial to the Hurricanes' hopes in 2016.

Team news: The Brumbies have named Allan Alaalatoa at loosehead prop ahead of Scott Sio while Ita Vaea starts at number eight. Behind them the backline is as predicted, with former Reds player Aidan Toua getting the nod in the full-back slot alongside a Puma and five Wallabies.

For the Hurricanes, Ngani Laumape and Vince Aso take over Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith's shirts while Leni Apisai is in for the injured Dane Coles. With James Broadhurst ruled out for the early campaign, the mobile Blade Thomson starts at second-row and is alongside Mark Abbott.

Form: The Brumbies lost 21-17 to the Waratahs in their pre-season opener but comfortably beat the Reds 31-18, which sets them up nicely for the campaign. Meanwhile, the Hurricanes come into this game on the back of a 74-7 hammering of the Crusaders which saw them score 12 tries.

Prediction: This should be a fantastic match on day one of the competition and we just think the hosts might nick the win. Brumbies by three.

Previous results:

2015: Hurricanes won 29-9 in Wellington
2014: Brumbies won 29-21 in Wellington
2013: Brumbies won 30-23 in Canberra
2012: Brumbies won 37-25 in Wellington
2011: Brumbies won 17-16 in Canberra
2010: Hurricanes won 23-13 in Canberra
2009: Hurricanes won 56-7 in Wellington
2008: Hurricanes won 33-15 in Canberra

The teams:

Brumbies: 15 Aidan Toua, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Tomás Cubelli, 8 Ita Vaea, 7 David Pocock, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 Allan Alaalatoa
Replacements: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Leslie Leulua'iali'i-Makin, 19 Jordan Smiler, 20 Jarrad Butler, 21 Michael Dowsett, 22 Andrew Smith, 23 Nigel Ah Wong

Hurricanes: 15 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Vince Aso, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara (c), 8 Victor Vito, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Mark Abbott, 4 Blade Thomson, 3 Jeff Toomaga-Allen, 2 Leni Apisai, 1 Reggie Goodes
Replacements: 16 Ricky Riccitelli, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Loni Uhila, 19 Vaea Fifita, 20 Callum Gibbins, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Otere Black, 23 Willis Halaholo

Date: Friday, February 26
Venue: GIO Stadium, Canberra
Kick-off: 19:45 local (08:45 GMT)
Referee: Andrew Lees (Australia)
Assistant Referees: Rohan Hoffmann (Australia), Michael Hogan (Australia)
TMO: Damien Mitchelmore (Australia)