If Steve Larkham can finally rid himself of the Jake White kicking malaise, the Brumbies can make a big noise in the Super Rugby finals series.
First up it’s the two-time defending champion Chiefs, with the bonus of a home game, then the all-expansive Waratahs away, as the first-time minor premiers.
Unless, that is, the Highlanders upset the Sharks at Durban, then they will play the Waratahs, and the Brumbies the Crusaders.
The more likely is a Brumbies-Waratahs semi, making it two big asks, then probably the Crusaders in the decider. Kicking away possession in any of those games will prove terminal, as all three teams have made their mark in 2014 as superb counter punchers.
But why would Larkham try to win without the ball, waiting for opposition mistakes? That doesn’t make any sense. He has a quality pack of Wallabies and near-Wallabies, who can deliver good service to one of the best backlines in the tournament.
Half Nic White, fly-half Matt Toomua, centres Christian Lealiifano, and Tevita Kuridrani, wingers Clyde Rathbone and the Wallaby-in-waiting Henry Speight, with the busy Jesse Mogg.
Expect Speight is to be a match-winner, given half a sniff. He not only has the pace, but the size and the ability to beat an opponent pointless. Don’t let him wither on the vine, nor go chasing.
As for the Waratahs, having a week off, cruelling the momentum of their record last seven wins on the trot, is dangerous. Training paddocks are boring, and the Tahs drink in the adrenalin of putting points on the board.
Since being beaten by the Blues 21-13 on April 25, the Waratahs have scored 266 points to 101, and 33 tries to 8 in seven straight wins.
They have virtually an all-Wallaby pack, and the best backline in the business in Nick Phipps, Bernard Foley, Kurtley Beale and Adam Ashley-Cooper in the centres, two quick wingers in Rob Horne and Alofa Alofa, with the code’s most exciting player Israel Folau out the back.
How coach Michael Cheika keeps his troops up to speed for 14 days will be his toughest assignment to date.
Lurking are the Crusaders, with the greatest track record of them all – seven premierships and three losing finals. Next best are the Blues with 3-1, the Bulls 3-0, the Brumbies 2-4, the Chiefs 2-1, and the Reds 1-0.
The Sharks are 0-4, the Tahs 0-2, while the Stormers, Hurricanes, and Highlanders are 0-1.
They are the 36 finalists since 1996, but what I really want to see is a Brumbies versus Waratahs final.
For that to happen, the Highlanders must beat the Sharks in Durban. That would give the Waratahs an armchair ride into the final, with the Highlanders legless after travelling to Durban and back. If the Brumbies can take care of the Crusaders in Christchurch, that’ll be our final.
I’m after a perfect world.
- David Lord, Roar