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The Brumbies arrived back in Canberra on Monday afternoon after their thrilling semi-final victory over the Bulls in Pretoria, and declared themselves ready for the challenge of this Saturday’s Super Rugby Final against the Chiefs in Hamilton.
And far from shirking at the strains of flying halfway around the world and back again in less than a week, hooker Stephen Moore declared the team fresh and eager for their trip to New Zealand.
‘The last few months I’ve been away a fair bit with the Lions series and now all this, but I wouldn’t have it any other way,’’ said Moore, who played in all three Tests for the Qantas Wallabies in the recent DHL Australia 2013 Lions Tour.
Moore and his team mates were also boosted by a reception by over 50 Brumbies fans waiting at Canberra airport when their plane touched down.
‘‘To come back from a tough away trip and come back to this kind of reception is great. It’s been a fantastic journey so far and we’ve got one big week to go.’’
The Brumbies had a light training session on Tuesday in Canberra before they fly out for New Zealand on Thursday.
The whole squad returned to Canberra on Monday evening except for Man of the Match in Pretoria, flanker George Smith, and the player who set up the late try to snatch victory, flyhalf Matt Toomua, who both remained in Sydney and re-joined the squad on Tuesday.
The Brumbies flight plans, which have seen them jetting from Australia to South Africa to New Zealand in consecutive weeks would be enough to undo most teams, but if anything its making the Brumbies stronger.
They already have one of the best away records in the tournament having won four and drawn another of their 8 matches away from Canberra this season. Indeed they have won both of their other matches in New Zealand this season, a 30-19 win over the Highlanders in Dunedin and a 20-13 win over the Blues in Auckland, so travelling across the ditch holds little fears for them.
Their epic journey has also coincided with, or perhaps instigated, a form reversal. Since their last regular season game, a disappointing 21-15 loss against the Western Force in Perth, the Brumbies returned to Canberra where they defeated the Cheetahs in the first week of the finals, before defeating the Bulls 26-23 Pretoria.
Now the challenge of the reigning champions, the Chiefs, is in their sights.
Prop Ben Alexander, one of the heroes of a stunning scrumming display in Pretoria, where they decimated the much-vaunted Bulls pack in the first half, said he expected to be fully recovered by the time he and his team mates take the field on Saturday (5.35pm AEST).
‘‘We only had a six-day turnaround going over there (Pretoria), so we managed to get up for the game, so there’s no reason with the same turnaround we can’t get up again,’’ he said.
‘‘We actually got an earlier flight in and got in two hours earlier, so it’s a good sign. The support is unbelievable.”
‘‘It means the world to us and gives us extra motivation to do it again next week.’’
One of the most popular stars with the waiting fans was new Qantas Wallabies inside centre Christian Lealiifano, who made his debut in the recent Test series against the Lions.
Lealiifano high-fived youngsters at the airport before saying that he believed the key to victory in the Final would be shutting out the sold-out 25,000 strong Chiefs crowd, just as they did at Loftus Versfeld when they took a shock 10-0 lead in the first 10 minutes.
‘‘It’s always special to come home and see all the support and everyone backing the team is pretty cool,’’ Lealiifano said. ‘‘The best thing we can do is business as usual.”
‘‘We’ll work hard on looking for improvement in our game and not worry too much about the occasion, we know how big it is.’’
The mastermind of the Brumbies stunning rise from 13th to Finalists in just two seasons, coach Jake White, was in a jovial move and joked he would have to entice Smith to change his plans to return to Japan and get him back next year.
‘‘He was man of the match at Loftus, who knows maybe he’ll be man of the match in the final as well,’’ White said. ‘‘I’ll probably have to sign him on for another couple of years.’’
The Western Force return to NIB Stadium for the second time this season and the Honey Badger wants sea of blue fans to “get your carcass on the chair”! In 2014 the Force had a slow start to the season, before finishing off strongly, and they will be hoping for a repeat after winning just one of their opening four matches this season!
The Queensland Reds are struggling with injury and form at present, and they’ve been handed another massive blow this weekend with James O’Connor (leg) & Lachie Turner (concussion) being ruled out. Suffering a 23-5 loss to the NSW Waratahs on the weekend, the Reds will run onto Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night looking to turn their season around after just one win to their name in the opening four rounds coming against the Western Force two weeks ago!