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Preview: Brumbies v <hash>Blues</hash>

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Thursday, July 12, 2012    Sportal.co.nz    Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: Canberra Stadium, Saturday July 14, 3.30pm (AEST).
HEAD TO HEAD: Played 17 - Blues 10, Brumbies 7.
LAST TIME: March 19, 2010 (Auckland) - Blues 39-34 Brumbies (Round 6).

WALKING WOUNDED: The Brumbies are boosted by the return of Wallabies winger Joe Tomane from an ankle injury, forcing Jesse Mogg to full-back and Robbie Coleman to the bench. Destructive forward Fotu Auelua also returns from a hamstring injury off the bench. The Blues welcome back tighthead prop Charlie Faumuina from a calf injury, however, destructive winger Rene Ranger is the latest casualty to join a burgeoning injury ward.

FORM:
Brumbies Past Five:
Week 17: Win, 19-15 v Waratahs, Sydney
Week 16: Win, 28-17 v Force, Perth
Week 15: Win, 27-19 v Rebels, Melbourne
Week 14: Loss, 13-12 v Reds, Canberra
Week 13: Win, 37-25 v Hurricanes, Wellington

Blues Past Five
Week 17: Win, 32-9 v Force, Auckland
Week 16: Bye
Week 15: Loss, 41-34 v Chiefs, Auckland
Week 14: Loss, 27-20 v Highlanders, Auckland
Week 13: Loss, 59-12 v Crusaders, Christchurch

The Brumbies did what they've done all season against the Waratahs - defend like their lives depend on it and scrape out a tight win without playing much rugby. Jake White's men were supposed to be the easy beats of the Australian Conference, but with one game remaining they need a solitary point to finish ahead of the Reds and book their first finals appearance since 2004. However, if the Brumbies lose and the Reds beat the Waratahs with a bonus point, the Brumbies could drop out of the top six all together, depending on other results.

The Blues started the season as favourites to claim the New Zealand Conference but sit 13th with a woeful 3-12 record after a miserable campaign. They made the most of a soft opponent against a depleted Force to snap a three-game losing streak last start, but the Brumbies in Canberra are a much tougher proposition.

WHO'S HOT: Brumbies skipper Ben Mowen led from the front against his former Waratahs team-mates while boom flanker Michael Hooper, who is expected to join the 'Tahs next season, was equally impressive. Winger Henry Speight was also dangerous throughout. Blues forward Steven Luatua demonstrated his immense potential against the Force, scoring a try and producing other destructive runs, while fullback and NZ Sevens representative Charles Piutau was another to shine.

WE THINK: The Brumbies are almost at full strength and have everything to play for while the Blues are missing an entire team through injury and can't wait for their disastrous season to end. If the Blues can click like they did in the second half against the Force last week they're an outside chance of an upset, but we're backing the Brumbies to get the job done and secure their spot in the finals. Brumbies by 12.

TEAMS:

Brumbies 1. Ben Alexander, 2. Stephen Moore, 3. Dan Palmer, 4. Scott Fardy, 5. Sam Carter, 6. Peter Kimlin, 7. Michael Hooper, 8. Ben Mowen, 9. Nic White, 10. Zack Holmes, 11. Joe Tomane, 12. Pat McCabe, 13. Andrew Smith, 14. Henry Speight, 15. Jesse Mogg.

Reserves: 16. Anthony Hegarty, 17. Ruaidhri Murphy, 18. Leon Power, 19. Fotu Auelua, 20. Ian Prior, 21. Tevita Kuridrani, 22. Robbie Coleman.

Blues 1. Tony Woodcock, 2. Keven Mealamu (c), 3. Charlie Faumuina, 4. Liaki Moli, 5. Steven Luatua, 6. Chris Lowrey, 7. Daniel Braid, 8. Luke Braid, 9. Piri Weepu, 10. Michael Hobbs, 11. Hadleigh Parkes, 12. Ma'a Nonu, 13. Francis Saili, 14. Lachie Munro, 15. Charles Piutau.

Reserves: 16. Tom McCartney, 17. Tevita Mailau, 18. Andrew Van der Heijden, 19. Peter Saili, 20. Alby Mathewson, 21. Orene Ai'I, 22. Sherwin Stowers.

REFEREE: Jonathon White