Preview: Brumbies v Blues



VENUE & TIME: Canberra Stadium, Saturday February 10, 21.40 NZT (1940 local).

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 13 � Brumbies 5, Blues 8.

LAST TIME: March 18, 2006 (Auckland) � Blues 26-15 Brumbies.

WALKING WOUNDED: Neither Sam Tuitupou (shoulder) nor Isaia Toeava (knee) passed fitness tests after last week�s tough encounter and both remain in Auckland this weekend. Luke McAlister takes over at second five-eighths in what should be the most-watched effort of the night and Anthony Tuitavake shifts in to centre. Mark Gerrard got a 'good news, bad news' report on his knee injury � it will keep him out of this match but does not look likely to require surgery. Stirling Mortlock has recovered from a head knock and takes his place in the starting team while Stephen Larkham returns from paternal leave and there is a backline reshuffle.

FORM: Both sides claimed good wins in the opening round �the Blues 34-25 over the Crusaders and the Brumbies 21-15 over the Chiefs - playing smarter, more precise rugby than their respective opponents. Both played to an obvious plan and neither deviated much from the pre-game script, which made their efforts both commendable and watchable.

WHO'S HOT: Plenty of players on both sides had good opening matches. Despite his rather soft yellow card, Troy Flavell was impressive in all areas and was ably backed by the other members of the pack. The Blues scrum did enough to suggest it may have the Brumbies under the hammer on Saturday but the lineout work needs accuracy that was sometimes lacking last Friday. Isakela Nacewa made a fine fist of both first five-eighths and the goal-kicking in a standout display, while Tuitavake and Doug Howlett looked sharp. George Gregan played well for the Brumbies and Mortlock, as usual, was a rock in midfield. Julian Huxley controlled play through his long-kicking game but will need something different against a Blues side that will attack with ball in hand. Mark Chisholm and Alistair Campbell were good in the lineout but the scrum looked a bit shaky.

WE THINK: A tough game to call and either side could win without causing too much of a surprise. Each will see areas in the other's game that can be targeted and aspects of their own that need attention this week. As far as 'put up or shut up' is concerned, we think the Blues might just get home but there won't be more than five points in it.

TEAMS:

Brumbies:1 � Nic Henderson, 2 � Jeremy Paul, 3 � Guy Shepherdson, 4 � Alistair Campbell, 5 � Mark Chisholm, 6 � Julian Salvi, 7 � George Smith, 8 � Stephen Hoiles, 9 � George Gregan, 10 � Stephen Larkham, 11 � Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 � Gene Fairbanks, 13 � Stirling Mortlock, 14 � Clyde Rathbone, 15 � Julian Huxley.

Reserves: 16 � Saia Faingaa, 17 � Salesi Ma'afu, 18 � Adam Wallace-Harrison, 19 � Jone Tawake, 20 � Patrick Phibbs, 21 � Matt Carraro, 22 � Peter Playford.

Blues:1 � Saimone Taumoepeau, 2 � Derren Witcombe, 3 � John Afoa, 4 � Greg Rawlinson, 5 � Troy Flavell (captain), 6 � Angus Macdonald, 7 � Daniel Braid, 8 � Jerome Kaino, 9 � David Gibson, 10 � Isa Nacewa, 11 � Rudi Wulf, 12 � Luke McAlister, 13 � Anthony Tuitavake, 14 � Doug Howlett, 15 � George Pisi.

Reserves: 16 � Chris Heard, 17 � Nick White, 18 � Anthony Boric, 19 � Justin Collins, 20 � Steve Devine, 21 � David Holwell, 22 � Ben Atiga.

REFEREE: Jonathan Kaplan