The battle for the top of the Australian Conference is heating up. The Brumbies are in the box seat with two wins over the Waratahs for the first time in 14 years.
The Rebels have had a reasonable start to their season, getting their won drought-breaking win over the Waratahs in Sydney but they have lost every match against New Zealand teams.
The new conference system has thrown up some quirks and it's unfortunate to think that some of the Kiwi teams will miss out, though an automatic qualifying spot is going to be very valuable for Australia, with that likely to be the only spot for an Australian side in the finals.
There is no use complaining about the structure because it was agreed to by all parties.
Whatever the nuances of the system, the bottom line is Fridays' Rebels vs Brumbies clash is crucial.
The Rebels come off a bye and will be physically and mentally prepared for the challenge this weekend, the start of a difficult run home with games against the Chiefs, Crusaders and the Stormers to come as well.
The culture of the Rebels and the strength of their talent development has been praised in recent weeks. Several players have taken their opportunities in Melbourne but when I compare the strength of the playing rosters the Brumbies definitely have the advantage.
Both squads have instilled a really strong work ethic and culture on and off the field but this result will be determined by the class of the players. The Brumbies have the edge on the field and on their reserves bench.
If there is one chink in the Brumbies' armour, it would be that they are pretty light on backline players at the moment, with injuries to Joe Tomane, Henry Speight and Matt Toomua, which means the lion's share of weight sits on the shoulders of Wallaby centre Tevita Kuridrani, who needs to step up.
The Brumbies forward pack and set piece continues to be one of their key weapons and the clashes there might almost make the backline matchups irrelevant.
Games are won and lost at the breakdown. The intriguing battle between the Brumbies' in-form back row of David Pocock, Scott Fardy and Jarrad Butler and the Rebels' Sean McMahon, New Zealander Adam Thomson and ex-Brumby Colby Fainga'a will be crucial to deciding which team comes out with the four points.
One of the Brumbies' most consistent forwards again this season has been Fardy. After his wonderful turn in last year’s Rugby World Cup Fardy has only continued to grow as a player. His form warrants him being the second man picked in the Wallabies back row after his Brumbies teammate David Pocock. His work rate and impact is immense and his lineout prowess gives the Wallabies back row a better balance.
There is a glut of talent in the number seven position in Australian rugby. Pocock and McMahon have been inspirational, while criticism of Michael Hooper form is totally unwarranted and he remains a world class player that will definitely be somewhere in Michael Cheika’s plans. Thoughts of playing three fliers in the Wallaby backrow are not viable, though.
At the end of the day, when you talk about class, if the Wallabies' England series team was selected this weekend I believe the Brumbies would still have six starting players in the gold.
That will be the difference on Friday night.
Brumbies by 10 points
A former Captain of the ACT Brumbies, Owen Finegan played 90 matches for the Brumbies and 56 Tests for the Wallabies. He is currently the CEO of The Kids' Cancer Project Australia.
The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the ARU.