Brumbies See Mauger As Vulnerable



As the mind games intensify two days from kick-off, converted centre Aaron Mauger has been targeted as a potential weakness in the Crusaders armoury.

Mortlock was tormentor-in-chief of the All Blacks during their shock World Cup semifinal loss last November and although a knee injury consigns him to the stands at Canberra Stadium the Brumbies believe their star-studded backline can deliver the killer blow.

Departing Brumbies coach David Nucifora suggested the Brumbies would be trying to emulate the Wallabies' ruthlessness at Canberra Stadium, noting All Black Mauger's unfamiliarity with the centre role.

"I'm not saying that he's a weakness," Nucifora said.

"But outside centre is one position where you've got a lot of choices to make and in the pressure of big games, if the play against you is executed well enough, if you don't make the decision immediately and you don't make the right one, then it can cost you.

"We've got to be good enough to ask the questions and apply the pressure."

By raising Mauger as a target, Nucifora revived painful memories of the All Blacks' harrowing semifinal exit.

Then Mortlock was unleashed against Leon MacDonald, a converted fullback thrown in at centre after Tana Umaga was injured early in the tournament. Now Mauger, a specialist second five-eighth bumped a spot out to allow Daniel Carter to stay at No 12, is about to be subjected to a similar test.

Although Mortlock is absent his likely replacement, Joel Wilson, proved last weekend against the Chiefs he is capable of asking questions of Mauger's front-on defence. Veteran fullback Joe Roff and form wingers Clyde Rathbone and Mark Gerrard are also primed to test Mauger with angled runs.

Nucifora names his side on Friday with Wilson the front-runner to replace his skipper. Moving Rathbone in a position and bringing Mark Bartholomeusz on to the wing is another scenario, though unlikely.

Wilson, who has patiently bided his time since joining the Brumbies four seasons ago, said he was looking forward to the physicality of Saturday's challenge.

"It's become a crash ball position," Wilson said of the centre role. "You're almost the ninth forward. Stirling is a little bit bigger than me, but I still enjoy the physical stuff."

Meanwhile, Nucifora believes the first half hour will be the critical juncture of the final.

"I can see it as being a real jostle for position," he said. "It's important for us that we are on the front foot. We've been a bit too reactive in the past to the Crusaders."

Nucifora said there was plenty of confidence among his players despite the Brumbies not having beaten the Crusaders since 2001.

"There is a strong belief in this team that we are good enough to win this and we are really going to go out there and play the way we want to play and dictate the tactics."

The Brumbies had the day off in Canberra on Thursday, giving former captain George Gregan time to recover from a bout of gastroenteritis.

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