Preview: Blues v Brumbies

Getty Images     19 Mar 2010     Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: Eden Park, Auckland, Friday March 19, 19.35 NZT.

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 16 – Blues 9, Brumbies 7.

LAST TIME: May 9, 2009 (Canberra) – Brumbies 37-15 Blues.

LAST TIME AT VENUE: April 12, 2008 – Blues 11-16 Brumbies.

WALKING WOUNDED: Luke McAlister's return to the Blues has been delayed by a broken nose suffered in a club match over the weekend. However, the Blues had better news on other injury fronts with backs Isaia Toeava, George Pisi and Anthony Tuitavake and loose forward Chris Lowrey all recovering nicely from their various problems. Toeava makes the starting line-up this week and the others aren't far away from consideration. Stirling Mortlock was ruled out with a minor neck injury; his absence is more precautionary than anything else and he should be back shortly.


Round 1: Lost to Hurricanes 22-34
Round 2: Beat Highlanders 19-15
Round 3: Beat Reds 27-18
Round 4: Lost to Crusaders 20-33
Round 5: Bye

PAST FIVE Brumbies:
Round 1: Beat Force 24-15
Round 2: Lost to Bulls 32-50
Round 3: Beat Stormers 19-17
Round 4: Beat Lions 23-14
Round 5: Beat Sharks 24-22

The Blues are promising to have a reasonable season but have already dropped a couple of games to other contenders and face a difficult task this weekend against a Brumbies side that's winning without notching up many style points. Both the Hurricanes and Crusaders have beaten the Blues by applying constant pressure, reducing errors and taking whatever chances are left lying around – exactly how the Brumbies will play it. The Blues did the same to the Reds in dreadful conditions, so they can win tough games, but the home team probably cannot afford to lose this one. The Brumbies have put together a sound start but are not tearing the competition up – ironically, they posted their highest score in the one match they've lost. The Australians have got by with a very sound defence (only eight tries conceded in five matches), good ball retention, the ability to apply pressure for 80 minutes and accurate goal-kicking.

WHO'S HOT: Keven Mealamu makes his 100th appearance for the Blues this week – the first man to reach that milestone – and that should provide ample motivation for his team. His example around the field deserves the reward of a complete performance from the troops in this match. Alby Mathewson has proved a valuable acquisition with his sharp running and good general play but the backline is yet to click; when it does Rudi Wulf will benefit from some decent possession. Matt Giteau will obviously be a key man in the Brumbies lineup and he's gradually working into form in general play while his kicking (93 percent) could hardly be better. Ben Alexander scored a couple of one-metre tries last week on the back of concerted phase play in the 22; the Brumbies don't make as many errors near the line as most teams and this is something the Blues have to watch for. George Smith is having his usual good season but perhaps the home defence will have to keep a closer eye on brother Tyrone, who is having a breakthrough year in midfield.

WE THINK: This will be the toughest match of the weekend and one could make a case for either team. If the Blues have the patience and discipline to counter the Brumbies sequence play without giving up penalties the home team should get the points; we're going to stick our necks out and say they can, but we don't expect the margin to be more than about five points and don't expect to see many tries.


Blues: 1.Tony Woodcock, 2.Keven Mealamu (captain), 3.John Afoa, 4.Kurtis Haiu, 5.Anthony Boric, 6.Jerome Kaino, 7.Serge Lilo, 8.Viliame Ma'afu, 9.Alby Mathewson, 10.Stephen Brett, 11.Rudi Wulf, 12.Benson Stanley, 13.Rene Ranger, 14.Joe Rokocoko, 15.Isaia Toeava.

Reserves: 16.Tom McCartney, 17.Charlie Faumuina, 18.Filo Paulo, 19.Peter Saili, 20.Chris Smylie, 21.Daniel Kirkpatrick, 22. Paul Williams.

Brumbies: 1.Ben Alexander, 2.Stephen Moore, 3.Salesi Ma'afu, 4.Ben Hand, 5.Mark Chisholm, 6.Rocky Elsom, 7.George Smith, 8.Stephen Hoiles (captain), 9.Josh Valentine, 10.Matt Giteau, 11.Francis Fainifo, 12.Christian Lealiifano, 13. Tyrone Smith, 14.Pat McCabe, 15.Adam Ashley-Cooper.

Reserves: 16.Huia Edmonds, 17.Jerry Yanuyanutawa, 18.Justin Harrison, 19.Mitchell Chapman, 20. Patrick Phibbs, 21.Matt Toomua, 22.Andrew Smith.

REFEREE: Mark Lawrence (South Africa)