The Brumbies have secured a home quarter-final as Super Rugby’s Australian conference winners but in a quirk of the system will host wildcard team the Highlanders, who finished with nine more points at the end of the regular season.
The Highlanders are on a three-game winning streak having defeated the Chiefs, Jaguares and Kings since the June Test break and the defending champs will be backing themselves to overcome the Brumbies.
On the other side, the Brumbies have been struggling of late having been thumped by the lowest ranked New Zealand side the Blues two weeks ago, but managed to secure top spot of the Aussie conference with a low-scoring win over the Force last weekend.
The Brumbies have won seven of their last nine matches against the Highlanders
If the Highlanders win, it will be the first time they’ve gone back-to-back against the Brumbies since 2006 and their first win in Canberra in a decade.
The Brumbies have won their last four matches at home, outscoring their opponents by a combined 156-45, but only one of their last four against New Zealand opponents in Canberra.
Key match ups
Tomas Cubelli vs Aaron Smith
Cubelli has been one of the Brumbies’ best in 2016 and adds a lot of spark to their backline. For the Brumbies to win, Cubelli will need to be at the top of his game, delivering quick ball, and taking the game on with his creativity and strong kicking game. It doesn’t get much harder for the Argentinian international who is set to face off against the best scrumhalf in the world in Aaron Smith. Smith’s contribution to the Highlanders side is invaluable as he is regarded as having one of the best passes in the game.
Scott Fardy vs Elliot Dixon
Fardy will happily welcome back fellow Wallaby David Pocock to the Brumbies backrow this weekend to help at the breakdown, with one man they’ll need to watch is Elliot Dixon. Dixon is a big game player as seen by his man of the match performance in last year’s final and recently won an All Blacks debut. Fardy will need to be wary of Dixon’s impact with the ball in hand.
Matt Toomua vs Malakai Fekitoa
Toomua should be hitting his straps this weekend as he prepares to run out for his fifth game since returning from a midyear knee injury. Toomua’s inclusion at 12 adds stability to the Brumbies backline alongside Christian Lealiifano and adds another dimension to their kicking game which will be crucial on Friday night. His direct opponent Malakai Fekitoa adds a bit of X-factor to the Highlanders with his powerful running and solid defence a vital weapon for the Kiwi side.
Where the game will be won
The Brumbies have relied heavily on their set piece this season and scored a majority of their tries off the back of rolling mauls. Interestingly the Highlanders were able to contain the Brumbies set piece through some clever work at the line out when they met in round 10. The Brumbies are to win, they will need to be creative in attack and get on top at the breakdown. . With rain forecast for the game, the Brumbies’ maul might become a little bit more powerful. The Highlanders have strong kicking game and boast a lot of X-factor in their back three of Ben Smith, Waisake Naholo and Patrick Osbourne
Aidan Toua, Nigel Ah Wong, Tevita Kuridrani, Matt Toomua, Robbie Coleman, Christian Lealiifano (co-captain), Tomas Cubelli, Jarrad Butler, David Pocock, Scott Fardy, Sam Carter, Blake Enever, Ruan Smith, Stephen Moore (co-captain), Scott Sio
Reserves: Josh Mann-Rea, Allan Alaalatoa, Leslie Leulua’iali’i-Makin, Tom Staniforth, Michael Wells, Joe Powell, Andrew Smith, James Dargaville, Lausii Taliauli
Ben Smith (co-captain), Waisake Naholo, Matt Faddes, Malakai Fekitoa, Patrick Osborne, Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Smith, Liam Squire, Shane Christie (co-captain), Elliot Dixon, Luke Whitelock, Tom Franklin, Josh Hohneck, Ash Dixon, Daniel Lienert-Brown
Reserves: Liam Coltman, Aki Seiuli, Siosiua Halanukonuka, Mark Reddish, Dan Pryor, Te Aihe Toma, Fletcher Smith, Rob Thompson
Watch the match LIVE on FOX SPORTS at 6pm AEST, Friday.