The Buildcorp NRC trophy will be on the line at Ballymore on Saturday afternoon (Image: Getty)
In what will be a massive Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning of rugby in Australia, the second Buildcorp National Rugby Championship title will be decided at Brisbane’s iconic Ballymore Oval, before all Aussie rugby eyes turn towards the Wallabies.
Brisbane City and the University of Canberra Vikings have been the two dominant teams in 2015, and though it doesn’t always happen that the best teams play off in Finals, this season’s NRC will be all the more memorable for that very point.
When the two teams met in Round 8 - with City claiming a hard-fought 37-31 win - many an expectation was formed that this wouldn’t be the last time we saw these two teams facing off in 2015. That they are again, and this time it’s for the trophy, only makes for an even more mouth-watering encounter.
The sides have been named, and opinions are being formed, and for something different for the Final, www.BuildcorpNRC.com.au spoke to the three men who might otherwise have been here on the final day of the competition.
Here are the responses earlier this week from semi-final coaches, Melbourne Rising’s Zane Hilton and Sydney Stars’ Peter Playford, and the man who was one bonus point off trumping both of them, NSW Country’s Darren Coleman, who will also lead the Australian Barbarians selection on their tour of New Zealand in early November.
The insight provided by the guys is absolutely fantastic, and their tips might even be something of a surprise...
Where are the opportunities against Brisbane City?
Hilton: “If you look at Canberra’s side, one of their strengths is the maul, and they will look to exploit the Brisbane side at maul time, there’s absolutely no doubt about that. It’s been a strength of their game, and from a Brisbane perspective, it’s been where they have leaked a few points, their maul defence. It really will be a battle of the set piece, there’s no doubt about it.
“When you look at the way Sydney played Brisbane in the semi-final, the opportunities against Brisbane are potentially to turn their back three around. If you are kicking to them, you have to be mindful you’re not kicking directly to them; you have to kick in behind them, kick along the ground to them. There’s potentially opportunities to isolate the back three there, because they are very much a running back three.
“If Christian (Lealiifano) kicks well for Canberra, I think they can make the most of their opportunities there.”
Playford: “Our big focus against Brisbane [in the semi-final last week] was to get off the line, but to stop their inside play. Because all they’re trying to do is get advantage line on you, and once they get advantage line, then their game opens up. They’ve got endless amount of opportunities either side of the field, but when you can push up and stop that inside play - which I thought we did really, really well - we changed their to go back toward set piece dominance.
“If I’m Canberra, I’m just always wording up on the inside, putting an incredible amount of heat on (Jake) McIntyre. Let’s be honest, he’s still not a hugely experienced 10, so out a huge amount of heat on him - so you go up on him, and you’ve got a player inside putting pressure on the player outside - he couldn’t really find the space on us until late.
“But I’d be looking at always defending inside; they’ve got that strategy off a turnover scrum, all they did was play inside to Karmichael [Hunt] or [Samu] Kerevi, and they made yards, so we made that a huge focus. And then on the edges, it’s just about trust (in communication), because all those guys like you to come in while they put someone away down the edge. In saying all that, they’re a class team, and they can find a way to win.”
Coleman: “I think Canberra could have a distinct advantage in the lineout drive. And I’ve not seen the teams yet, but I reckon their bench could be a bit stronger, too.
“And then just their relentless, structured, around the corner Brumbies-style of rugby, where if you’re not physical and ready to meet the challenge head on, that would be the things Brisbane would be wary of.
Where are the opportunities against Canberra?
Hilton: “Again, similarly, the key thing will be to make sure they play territory. Brisbane will have to be really, really disciplined not to allow them into their own half. If they can play territory early on, and I know that has been a bit of a change in game plan for Brisbane, but if you can look to minimise the Vikings’ opportunities in your half from set piece, and make the most of your unstructured ability with turnovers from Liam Gill at the breakdown and play off unstructured play, then I think opportunities will arise for Brisbane there.”
“We’d like to think Canberra feel as though we pushed them last week; the physicality of our semi-final was very high. I think Brisbane have certainly learned some lessons around execution at finals time. It’s nothing ‘Stilesy’ wouldn’t have told them before, but I think they got a bit of a shock to realise you can’t just throw it around and expect it to happen every single game.
“Canberra are very, very disciplined in that respect; if anyone, they’ve played the closest to Super Rugby all season, and Brad (Harris) and Dan (McKellar) have obviously made them aware of how you win tight games, because they’ve been playing that way anyway. It’ll be a great game, no doubt.”
Playford: “If the Vikings can control the speed of the game through their defence, they’re a very hard team to play against. I thought Melbourne did a really good job of unsettling them around the rucks.
“It’s like when the French played the Kiwis back in the day; you’ve got to do stuff these guys aren’t used to. It’s the same for Brisbane. Because they train a lot more, they’re well-drilled, you’ve got to rattle them and do things that unsettle them, because if they can get on a roll, they get the rub of the green, and they just become too hard to play against.
“I’d be much more concerned playing Canberra; and maybe that’s because we’ve just played Brisbane, and I thought we had a good plan for them. But we were well beaten by Canberra.”
Coleman: “I think you’ve got to limit the amount of scrappy, unstructured possession you give Brisbane. I think they’re reasonably distinct styles in the fact that I think Brisbane probably play off the cuff a bit better, and they’re potentially more dangerous to score from their own end, and their offloading game; that’s probably the key elements you’ve got to shut down against them.
“I think it’s a reasonably structured v semi-unstructured kind of match-up.
“Some of the tries they score [off turnover ball] are just amazing. I know it’s a while ago now, but against us (Round 5, Brisbane won 61-29), but they were scoring tries from offloads onto an around-the-back pass... like you’d just expect that to break down at some point, but they’re scoring tries with five-plus passes in them, and three of the five passes are like, ‘wow, what a ball!’
“Their handling skills and their passing out of contact, and the confidence to throw those passes are top notch.”
Who wins and by how much?
Hilton: “I think Canberra by a try. Brisbane have been very, very good; there’s no doubt about that. Andrew Lees will allow both teams to play within their own spirit, and I just think Canberra will be able to isolate the set piece - both scrum and lineout - and I know it’ll be a huge battle, but I just think Canberra will get them. And I think the control with which Christian will have on the game to play territory will turn the Brisbane back three around.”
Playford: “I think Canberra will get up. I think both teams had the game they wanted leading up to the Final; they were both challenged, maybe had a bit of complacency bashed out of them. So I’m not one to hold back, I reckon Canberra by 24. But it’ll be a cracking game.”
Coleman: “I’m going to go Canberra... it’ll be tight though, by a try, maybe. They were a little off the last time they played, and their second half is more how I would expect them to play (Canberra came back from 24-5 down at halftime against Brisbane in Round 8, to lose 37-31). They’ve just more Super (Rugby) hardened overall.
“Some of these Brisbane kids are good players, but I just think that relentless grind... It will just depend how many against-the-run-of-play tries Brisbane can score to stay in it, but I just don’t think Canberra will be bitten twice by letting them jump out to a massive lead or giving them as much loose possession.”
SATURDAY - The Buildcorp National Rugby Championship Grand Final: Brisbane City v University of Canberra Vikings, at Ballymore Oval in Brisbane; 3:00pm AEST / 4:00pm AEDT.
Tickets: Adults just $20 via www.redsrugby.com.au | Broadcast live on FOX SPORTS Channel 502