Super Rugby AU, Semifinal: Teams & Predictions
UNCHARTED WATERS: The Western Force are entering uncharted waters, but coach Tim Sampson is backing the team’s old heads to provide a calming influence in Saturday’s semi-final showdown against the Brumbies in Canberra.
The Force’s stunning 30-27 win over the Queensland Reds last week saw the Perth-based franchise end their 16-year finals drought.
The result also continued a trend of close wins for the Force, who stayed calm in tense moments in their last-gasp victories over the Waratahs and Rebels.
The Force’s squad boasts a wealth of experience, including All Blacks Richard Kahui and Jeremy Thrush, Irish legend Rob Kearney, Argentinian internationals Tomas Cubelli and Santiago Medrano, and former and current Wallabies Kyle Godwin, Tom Robertson, Tevita Kuridrani, Sitaleki Timani and Greg Holmes.
Kuridrani (suspended) and Kearney (adductor) won’t play against the Brumbies, but Sampson is confident in his team’s overall experience.
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“The proof is in the pudding the last few weeks,” Sampson said.
“It [the experience] has been invaluable in how we’ve won those games.
“They are the guys who lead you around the park and it was evident last week. They didn’t get flustered, just stuck to the game plan and adjusted a bit.”
“The guys are pretty calm, the occasion hasn’t bothered them. Guys have played World Cups.”
The Brumbies will welcome back Wallabies quartet James Slipper, Nic White, Pete Samu and Irae Simone into the starting line-up as they attempt to keep their title defence alive.
The defending champs comfortably beat the Force in both their previous games this season but will clash with a confidence-stocked side in Canberra to decide who meets the Queensland Reds in the decider.
The Force have won their previous three games by one, one and three points respectively, toppling the Reds last weekend to sneak into third to complete a remarkable return to the Australian landscape.
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“At the start of the year I had them making the finals … it was all about them gelling and building those combinations,” said Slipper, who returns to the starting side this Saturday.
“A slow start for them but coming good now; they knocked off the Reds so they’re a serious threat and we’re preparing that way.”
He’ll lock horns with 37-year-old former teammate Greg Holmes, who has bolstered the Force scrum to complement a threatening backline led by Argentine scrumhalf Tomas Cubelli.
“My old mate Greg Holmes is still kicking along which is good to see,” Slipper said of his former Queensland Reds teammate.
“I always know if he’s still playing I have a few good years still in me, that’s one good thing about Holmesy.
“There’s quality there and it sets up a good battle up front.”
Brumbies v Western Force
(GIO Stadium, Canberra – Kick-off: 19.45; 17.45 AWST; 09.45 GMT)
The Brumbies have won their last 11 consecutive Super Rugby games against the Western Force by an average margin of 17 points per game; their last defeat to the Force came in July 2013 (21-15).
Western Force have logged only two wins from their 11 previous away games against the Brumbies in Super Rugby, the most recent of which came in Round 9, 2011 (27-19).
The Brumbies have won 19 of their last 21 Super Rugby games on home turf and have lost only once at home in Super Rugby AU; while Western Force have logged two away wins this season – the last time they won more on the road in a single campaign was in 2014.
The Brumbies have won three of their four previous Super Rugby finals games against Australian opponents, including a 28-23 win over the Queensland Reds in the 2020 Super Rugby AU Final.
This will be the Western Force’s 192nd Super Rugby game and their first ever finals fixture in the competition.
The Brumbies have scored the opening try of the game in 10 of their last 11 Super Rugby games against Western Force; however, in their last two meetings they have not scored a try until the 20th minute of the game at the earliest.
The Brumbies have conceded just six clean breaks per game this Super Rugby AU season, the joint-fewest of any team (also Queensland Reds), while the Western Force’s six clean breaks made per game is the fewest of any team.
Western Force have stolen 10 opposition lineouts this Super Rugby AU campaign, the most of any team in the competition and seven more than the Brumbies.
Tom Wright (Brumbies) has crossed for a try in each of his last three Super Rugby AU games and has scored one try in each of his two games against Western Force in the competition.
Toni Pulu (Western Force) has beaten a competition – high five defenders per game this Super Rugby AU campaign; he has also beaten a total of eight defenders in his only two previous Super Rugby games against the Brumbies.
@rugby365com: Brumbies by three points
Brumbies: 15 Tom Banks, 14 Andy Muirhead, 13 Len Ikitau, 12 Irae Simone, 11 Tom Wright, 10 Noah Lolesio, 9 Nic White, 8 Pete Samu, 7 Rory Scott, 6 Rob Valetini, 5 Cadeyrn Neville, 4 Darcy Swain, 3 Allan Alaalatoa (captain), 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 Lachlan Lonergan, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Tom Ross, 19 Nick Frost, 20 Luke Reimer, 21 Ryan Lonergan, 22 Reesjan Pasitoa, 23 Mack Hansen.
Western Force: 15 Jake Strachan, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Richard Kahui, 12 Kyle Godwin (captain), 11 Jordan Olowofela, 10 Domingo Miotti, 9 Tomás Cubelli, 8 Brynard Stander, 7 Kane Koteka, 6 Fergus Lee-Warner, 5 Sitaleki Timani, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Santiago Medrano, 2 Feleti Kaitu’u, 1 Tom Robertson.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Ready, 17 Angus Wagner, 18 Greg Holmes, 19 Ryan McCauley, 20 Tim Anstee, 21 Ian Prior, 22 Henry Taefu, 23 Jack McGregor.
Referee: Nic Berry
Assistant referees: Graham Cooper, Amy Perrett
TMO: James Leckie