Preview: Brumbies v Highlanders

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Thursday, April 23, 2015    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Friday 24 April at 9.55pm
GIO Stadium, Canberra

Played: 18 (1996-2013, DNP 2014)
Brumbies wins: 10
Highlanders wins: 8

Brumbies points: 479
Highlanders points: 383

Last match: Brumbies 30 Highlanders 8, 12.04.13 in Dunedin

Round 11 teams:

Form: The Brumbies are enduring something of a funny old season, still firmly in contention as the final wildcard team, yet their five wins from nine matches come with the caveat that they are still to beat a team currently in the top ten.

It is far from doom and gloom though for the Brumbies attack is functional, but their defence, conceding just 112 points and eight tries, leads Super Rugby.

They also have won seven of nine at home against the Highlanders, with the Southerners victories coming 2002 and 2006. The ACT based outfit has won their last three in Canberra in the head-to-head.

As for the Highlanders, say it quietly but this crop look like they have the belief and confidence to go all the way – even though this match essentially marks the second half of the team’s regular season campaign.

They have started with a hiss and a roar in recent years only to fade away. With six of their last eight matches away from home, and four of their next five overseas, the Otago based side’s title hopes will be defined over the next month.

Key Players: The resting of the tourists backline All Blacks is a danger, simply for the fact that on paper the Brumbies have one of the best back divisions in Australia.

Christian Lealiifano continues to impress with his playmaking skills, while Tevita Kuridrani and Henry Speight add punch from the back.

Up front one cannot look past two previous Wallabies captains, with Stephen Moore in typical form while David Pocock, since returning from injury, has been unstoppable with his unique body position over the ball.

The Highlanders pack has been getting the job done, and while the ACT scrum and lineout is canny, the Southern forwards haven't been outmatched this season.

Lima Sopoaga, who is now on the Test selector's radar after Aaron Cruden's injury, will want a stellar game.

If he can get the job done without the two Smiths and Malakai Fekitoa around him it will be impressive stuff.

Fumiaka Tanaka is perhaps even more lively that Aaron Smith so his performance should excite, while once against Waisake Naholo will be one of the main sceptres on attack, more so without All Blacks around him.

Squad Update: The Brumbies have re-adjusted their tight-five significantly, with a new-look locking combination of Blake Enever and Jordan Smiler also set for a start. For Smiler, it’s his first start for 2015.

Ita Vaea claims the starting No.8 jersey for the Highlanders match moving Jarrad Butler to the bench where he will be joined by Rory Arnold and Ben Alexander.

Robbie Coleman debuted at inside-centre back in 2010 and he will again register a cap there on Friday night. His move to the centres brings Jesse Mogg into the starting side at fullback for the first time in 2015 where he will be supported by Tevita Kuridrani at outside centre.

Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph has rolled the dice, resting all three Highlander All Blacks. Add to that a mounting injury list including seven forwards unavailable for this fixture means that the Highlanders’ depth will certainly be put to the test in Canberra.

Pingi Tala’apitaga earns a start with Josh Hohneck moving to the bench. Tom Franklin returns to the starting team for the injured Mark Reddish. In the backs Trent Renata will make his 2015 debut at fullback while, Japanese international, Fumiaki Tanaka replaces Aaron Smith at halfback. Shaun Treeby and Richard Buckman will combine for the first time in the midfield.