Former Wallabies coach John Connolly says it is now or never for the Brumbies as the battle for top spot in Super Rugby’s Australian conference goes down to the wire.
The Brumbies head to Auckland’s Eden Park on Friday night to tackle the Blues, a match they simply must win well to stave off a fierce late challenge from a resurgent Waratahs side to snatch their finals spot.
Both sides are on 39 points, but the Brumbies have one more win to their name and thus sit in top position.
Connolly has backed them to stay there and remain in contention for an elusive third Super Rugby title, describing them as the most talented Australian team in the competition.
But he says their chances will evaporate next year when skipper Stephen Moore heads to Queensland, David Pocock goes on his sabbatical and Joe Tomane and Matt Toomua move to Europe.
“I’m tipping (them) to win their final two matches and hold on to that spot,” Connolly wrote in his column on rugby.com.au.
“(But) you get the feeling it might be now or never for them if they are going to finally break through for a title after making the finals the past three years.
“To date not much has been done to replace these players down in Canberra, although it is virtually impossible to replace over 200 Test matches worth of experience.”
The Brumbies have made two changes to the side that beat the Reds last week, with Michael Wells to start his first Super Rugby match in place of the injured Ben Hyne at No.8, while halfback Tomas Cubelli swaps with Joe Powell.
Meanwhile, the Blues are guaranteed to finish last in the New Zealand conference for the third-straight season, meaning the most they can hope for is to help shape the Australian finals race.
The Waratahs, who have won six of their past seven, visit Eden Park in the final round next weekend.
But being kingmakers in Australia isn’t doing much to fire them up this week – seeking an elusive 80-minute performance is, according to assistant coach Glenn Moore.
“Our focus all year has been making sure we perform and we still have the chance to play really well,” he said.
The Blues starting XV will be unchanged if centre Male Sa’u and lock Josh Bekhuis pass late fitness tests.