Highlanders say Brumbies ‘aren’t as good’ as they used to be

Sport. 22nd July 2016.Brumbies v Highlanders in Super Rugby Semi-finals. Second Half.Brumbies Right Flanker David Pocock.Photo Jamila Toderas Photo: Jamila ToderasOtago Highlanders coach Tony Brown has fired a trans-Tasman shot at the ACT Brumbies ahead of a grudge match at Canberra Stadium, saying the two-time champions “aren’t as good as they used to be”.

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The Brumbies are aiming for a drought-breaking win against a New Zealand opponent to stamp themselves as a Super Rugby contender this year after winning just two of the past 11 games against Kiwi opponents.

Former All Blacks playmaker Brown’s barb will hit a nerve in Canberra as the club fights to avoid the Super Rugby axe as officials consider cutting one Australian team from the competition.

It also adds fuel to a growing rivalry between the teams after the Highlanders knocked the Brumbies out of championship contention last year in a tense qualifying final in the capital.

The Brumbies’ heartbreak in that match also signalled the end of Matt Toomua, Stephen Moore and David Pocock’s immediate careers in Canberra.

The Highlanders have won just three games in Canberra in Super Rugby history, but Brown said: “They don’t play like Aussie teams – they maul you and they scrum you.

“And if you give away penalties they’ll do it again. We don’t have a great record [in Canberra] but we won our last game there and we feel like the Brumbies aren’t as good as they used to be.”

Australian teams have had a nightmare run against New Zealand rivals, winning only a handful of games in the past two seasons.

Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham conceded his team needed to improve its record to be considered a threat and believes they’ve got the firepower to match the star-studded Highlanders.

The Brumbies have won their past two games and are undefeated in their past nine Australian derbies, but toppling the Highlanders would be another step forward for the young ACT side.

“Things are moving in the right direction, but we’re certainly not getting ahead of ourselves,” Larkham said.

“Two wins against Australian teams is good for the record, but the challenge for us is to have a better record against New Zealand teams.

“I think our composure has been really good in the first four weeks. We’re not a side that traditionally loses and we’ve got a poor record against the Kiwi sides in the last couple of years that we certainly want to turn around.

“There’s been a big emphasis for us on beating New Zealand teams. The Highlanders seem to struggle here, but they beat us last year. It will be a tussle, we’re looking forward to it because there is that bit of momentum.”

The Brumbies launched a ‘call to arms’ earlier this week in the hope of luring a big crowd to Canberra Stadium for the match.

The club has been dragged into an off-field saga as one of the options for cutting an Australian team, with speculation the Brumbies could merge with the Melbourne Rebels.

“There’s been a lot of talk about the Australian teams starting slowly. We don’t represent Australia, we represent this area and organisation,” Larkham said.

“We’ve got a point to prove, like everyone else. But we’re not going out there to play for Australian rugby, we’re going out there to play for the Brumbies.

“It’s just to prove to other people outside this community that we have good support here. We can’t influence [the Super Rugby] decision, but the community certainly can.”

Larkham has made several changes to his game-day squad for the match, rotating Wallabies lock Rory Arnold to the bench while injecting James Dargaville, Robbie Abel, Chris Alcock and Blake Enever into the starting XV.

Wallabies prop Scott Sio will play his first game of the year from the bench after recovering from hamstring problems while Saia Faingaa is a reserve and will play his first Brumbies game since 2008.

SUPER RUGBY ROUND FIVE

Saturday: ACT Brumbies v Otago Highlanders at Canberra Stadium, 7.45pm. Tickets available at Ticketek.

Brumbies team: 15. Aidan Toua, 14. Henry Speight, 13. Tevita Kuridrani, 12. Kyle Godwin, 11. James Dargaville, 10. Wharenui Hawera, 9. Joe Powell, 8. Jordan Smiler, 7. Chris Alcock, 6. Scott Fardy, 5. Sam Carter, 4. Blake Enever, 3. Allan Alaalatoa, 2. Robbie Abel, 1. Nic Mayhew. Reserves: 16. Saia Faingaa, 17. Scott Sio, 18. Ben Alexander, 19. Rory Arnold, 20. Tom Staniforth, 21. Lolo Fakaosilea, 22. De Wet Roos, 23. Jordan Jackson-Hope.

Highlanders team: 15. Ben Smith, 14. Patelesio Tomkinson, 13. Malakai Fekitoa, 12. Richard Buckman, 11. Patrick Osborne, 10. Fletcher Smith, 9 Aaron Smith, 8. Luke Whitelock, 7. Dillon Hunt, 6. Elliot Dixon, 5. Tom Franklin, 4. Alex Ainley, 3. Siate Tokolahi, 2. Liam Coltman, 1. Daniel Lienert-Brown. Reserves: 16. Greg Pleasants-Tate, 17. Aki Seiuli, 18. Siosuia Halanukonuka, 19. Joe Wheeler, 20. Gareth Evans, 21. Kayne Hammington, 22. Marty Banks, 23. Matt Faddes.