Larkham downplays Brumbies’ top-two hopes

Likely needing a bonus-point win against a side the Brumbies haven’t beaten in five years to earn a week off, Stephen Larkham just wants his team to play some decent footy in preparation for the finals.

The Brumbies face the Crusaders on Saturday at GIO Stadium in the last Super Rugby round, with the prospect of finishing top of the Australian conference – and hence earning a week off and home semi-final – still alive.

In their way are the Waratahs, who face struggling Queensland later on Saturday when they’ll be hot favourites to dominate the derby clash, with a bonus-point win of their own to seal second spot.

Larkham admits the Brumbies are at “long odds” of finishing top-two and is already looking further ahead.

“So we want to get out there and play some decent rugby that’ll leave us in good stead for the finals,” said Larkham, with the Brumbies facing the added challenge of trying to end a four-match losing streak to the Crusaders since 2009.

While the Canberra-based franchise have conceded the fewest points this season (224), the Crusaders are the competition’s most prolific points-scorers with 444.

Their last four meetings have all been won by the Crusaders – three by 18 points or more, including a 42-point thrashing in 2011.

They’re statistics coach Stephen Larkham is well wary of.

“We’ve certainly spoken about what they bring in attack and we’ve spoken about the fact that they’ve scored almost double the amount of points we’ve let in this year,” he said.

“We know in the second half they put in a strong performance – and we’ve seen that over the last four years when we’ve played them.

“It’s been a fairly tight affair up until half-time and then they’ve blown us away in that second half, so it’s been a focus for us.”

With wingers Henry Speight and Joe Tomane given the all-clear to play and Wallabies playmaker Matt Toomua to make his comeback from injury off the bench, the Brumbies will field a near full-strength side – Sam Carter (knee) the only missing first-teamer.

The Crusaders have made five changes to their line-up, with captain Kieran Read returning to No.8.

Out of finals contentions, the Christchurch side have only pride to play for – and the opportunity to farewell All Blacks greats Richie McCaw and Dan Carter.

They’re arguably the biggest names in Super Rugby and could prove the difference in this match, but Larkham isn’t interested in paying them special attention.

“We’re not going to be focused on any individuals,” he said.

“We’ll be looking at our team performance and making sure we shut them down as a team.

“It’s probably their strongest team for the last couple of months, so we’re expecting a very physical confrontation but a very skilful performance from the Crusaders.

“The battle is going to be won in the forwards.”

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