The Brumbies admit they must chase bonus points – a rare commodity for them – as they attempt to hold out the NSW Waratahs in the battle for Super Rugby’s Australian conference title.
While they appear to have an easier path in the final three rounds against the 14th-placed Queensland Reds, Auckland’s Blues (11th) and the embattled Western Force (16th), they accept simply winning the games may well not be enough to secure the guaranteed finals berth.
Returning from the international break, they’re tied on points with the Waratahs but leading the conference thanks to one extra win going into Friday night’s clash with the Reds at GIO Stadium.
But only twice this season have the Brumbies picked up a bonus point, compared to the Tahs’ six – three from wins.
And the Tahs will fancy their chances of securing another against the bottom-placed Sunwolves in Tokyo on Saturday, before they meet the Hurricanes (6th) then the Blues.
Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham knows that bonus points could well mean the difference between a crack at the championship or not.
“If we get a top finish in the Australian conference it obviously makes things a lot easier, but if we don’t then we’re faced with the same battle that we’ve faced over the last couple of years where we have to fight our way through a quarter-final and semi-final away from home,” Larkham said on Thursday.
“Being equal on points with the Waratahs, if it ends up the same at the end of the season we go through with more wins – but they’re quite capable of getting bonus points.
“Our challenge will be winning and winning well.”
The Brumbies enter the crucial block of matches without three big names in David Pocock (fractured eye socket), Joe Tomane (knee) and Jordan Smiler (knee).
Their absence has opened the door for former tradie and current development player Ben Hyne, who will make his Super Rugby debut at No.8.
Reserve halfback Joe Powell, who was part of the Wallabies training squad before the England Test series, also gets his first start while playmaker Matt Toomua returns for his first Brumbies match since April after overcoming injury.
“I know we’re missing those three guys but a majority of the team is still there,” Larkham said.
“We’ve been without that backline for the last five games (so) I think we’re in a better position than we have been.”
The Reds, while out of playoffs contention, will have one eye on the future with prop Taniela Tupou – aka Tongan Thor – returning No.8 Leroy Houston and Wallabies World Cup lock Kane Douglas all set to join their first match of the season for the Reds from the bench.
Brumbies co-captain Stephen Moore, who is heading to Queensland next season, is expecting a physical battle.
“They’ll be looking for those guys to make a mark at this level,” he said.