PREVIEW: Brumbies v Chiefs
Thursday, March 31, 2016 Superrugby.co.nz Getty Images
Both sides enter this one as the leader of their respective conferences. The Brumbies (17 points) have won four and lost one so far in 2016, but have already posted hefty wins against the Hurricanes (52-10), Waratahs (32-15) and the Force (14-31). They return to Canberra after a win and a loss on their South African tour.
The Chiefs, meanwhile, are beginning to find momentum. They started with a shaky win over the Crusaders (27-21) before succumbing to the Lions (32-36) at home. In the three games since, they've piled on 141 points and conceded 60 in away wins over the Kings (58-24), Jaguares (30-26) and a resounding 53-10 win at home over the Force.
If there's one clash where home advantage plays a key part in victory, it's between these two sides. The last time an away side side won in this encounter was the Chiefs' 42-28 win in Canberra in 2008. That 14-point win has been their only win in Canberra in their last 10 clashes, although they scraped a 28-28 draw in 2005.
While plenty of hype has been built around the battle between Christian Lealiifano and opposite Aaron Cruden, one of the real battles will be at second receiver between second five-eighths Matt Toomua and Charlie Ngatai. Toomua's passing and kicking game has been utilised well as he interchanges between No.12 and first five-eighths, but statistically it's Ngatai who has shone to the point where All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has illustrated his interest. The No.12 has scored five tries, including four last week against the Force, while he is ranked in the top five of the competition in defenders beaten (25, 1st), tries scored (5, 2nd) offloads (10, 3rd) and clean breaks (10, 5th).
In the forward pack, the battle between loose forwards David Pocock and Chiefs co-captain Sam Cane shapes up as a beauty. The statistics between the two players are close – Cane has made 53 tackles to Pocock's 51, but Pocock has the better tackle success percentage at 94.4 percent to Cane's 88.3 percent. However, it's on attack where Cane's statistic outshine his blindside flanking counterpart: Cane's offloading prowess (six offloads to Pocock's two), and his 93 metres gained (as opposed to Pocock's 61 metres) showcase his ability as an attacking option from the back of the breakdown.
Could we be witnessing the All Blacks' newest back utility? The Chiefs playmaker has been in the thick of the action in 2016, and currently leads the competition in tries scored (6), points scored (85), carries (72) and is second in metres gained (396). While McKenzie's run so far this season has been a statistician's dream, he'll be up against a better quality unit than his side have faced this year. Still, the 20-year-old's class should continue to shine in Canberra at the weekend.
Brumbies: 1. Scott Sio, 2. Stephen Moore (co-captain), 3. Ben Alexander, 4. Rory Arnold, 5. Sam Carter, 6. Scott Fardy, 7. David Pocock, 8. Ita Vaea, 9. Tomas Cubelli, 10. Christian Lealiifano (co-captain), 11. Robbie Coleman, 12. Matt Toomua, 13. Tevita Kuridrani, 14. Joe Tomane, 15. Aidan Toua.
Reserves: 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: 1. Mitchell Graham, 2. Hika Elliot, 3. Siate Tokolahi, 4. Michael Allardice, 5. Taleni Seu, 6. Tom Sanders, 7. Sam Cane (co-captain), 8. Michael Leitch, 9. Brad Weber, 10. Aaron Cruden (co-captain), James Lowe, 12. Charlie Ngatai, 13. Anton Lienert-Brown, 14. Toni Pulu, 15. Damian McKenzie.
Reserves: 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.
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