Zack Holmes missed a kick after the siren in last year's loss to the Reds. Image courtesy of dailytelegraph.com.au/Getty Images
By all rights, the ACT Brumbies should have hosted a Super Rugby final last year at Canberra Stadium. Instead, Jake White’s team could do little more than watch the finals on TV as a last round loss to the lowly-ranked Blues left them equal on points with Queensland , with the Reds advancing as winners of the Australian Conference.
The Reds were the only Australian team to beat the Brumbies last season, winning 20-13 at home before a thrilling one-point win in Canberra when Zack Holmes missed a penalty kick after the siren. It was one of three losses the home side suffered in the nation’s capital, although Jake White’s team did win its opening three matches at home to kick off the season.
The Brumbies warmed up for this clash with an easy 38-7 win over an ACT XV last Friday. Former Wallaby flyer Clyde Rathbone crossed for two tries, which cemented his place in the team for this Saturday night’s match-up. Super-talented utility Christian Lealiifano was a standout in that outing as he continues his comeback from a season-ending ankle injury suffered against the Waratahs in the middle of last season. So influential was the inside centre-cum-fly-half in 2012 that he finished runner-up in the Australian Super Rugby player of the year voting, despite missing the last half-dozen games.
Lealiifano will spend the first few weeks of the season in the No. 12 jersey, with Matt Toomua – who also returns from a long-term injury layoff – coming back in to the team at fly-half. Centre Pat McCabe will miss the first month of the season with a neck injury, but apart from the bullocking Wallaby back and Josh Mann-Rea (knee), White will have a full squad at his disposal, despite a total of 20 players undergoing off-season surgery.
The Reds lost their final trial to the Chiefs 20-8 on the Sunshine Coast last weekend, which was their first trial loss since 2010. They led 8-0 at the half , and it was a commendable performance, especially without skipper James Horwill and fly-half turned pugilist Quade Cooper. Horwill won’t be fit to take on the Brumbies after injuring his ankle at training, and with halfback Will Genia missing at least the first six rounds, young prop James Slipper takes the reins of the 2011 Super Rugby champion. In a piece of good news for coach Ewen McKenzie, two of the standouts against the Chiefs were halfback Ben Lucas and flanker Ed Quirk – the players who will come in for the injured Genia and recently departed Scott Higginbotham.
The Reds won seven of their eight matches against Australian opposition last season. Their only loss on the road came when an injury-plagued line-up was smashed 45-19 by the Western Force on the back of a two-game tour of South Africa. Overall McKenzie’s side split its eight away fixtures in 2012.
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