Super finals ramifications as Brumbies host Highlanders
The Brumbies are well-poised for a top-two finish this Super Rugby Pacific season, with their bid to secure hosting rights for a semi-final seeing them welcome the Highlanders to Canberra on Sunday.
Perhaps buoyed by the first signs of a chink in the ladder-leading Chiefs' armour after they lost at home to the Queensland Reds on Friday night, the second-ranked Brumbies will look to continue winning ways against a Highlanders side that have lost four straight games.
After facing the Dunedin-based side, they close the regular season against the Western Force (eighth), Chiefs (first) and Melbourne Rebels (10th) with all games in Australia.
They'll need no reminder of the importance of a home game in the final four, beaten 20-19 by the Blues in last year's semi-final at Eden Park in Auckland.
But ahead of a match they'll enter as warm favourites, Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham denied they'd turned their mind to the bigger picture of the post-season.
"We haven't spoken about that, and we're not going to speak about that in a team environment," he said.
"We're very much focused on the week-to-week ... you can get carried away with where you are on the ladder and where you can potentially end up, and lose sight of what's most important.
"Really good training ... concentration in the meeting space, making sure we're really aligned on the weekend, and putting a good performance in on the weekend."
Their line-up is well settled and they've only tinkered around the edges, Ollie Sapsford's inclusion at centre in place of Tamati Tua the only change to the run-on side while former Wallaby Connal McInerney is on the bench for his first appearance since round five.
Larkham said the Highlanders' record - they're just 3-7 this season and rank 11th - was deceptive of just how good a side they can be.
"Like any New Zealand team, they've got some pretty devastating ball-carriers ... they're dangerous around the halves and have a few trick plays through the middle of the ruck," he said.
"Their set piece is outstanding, probably one of the best New Zealand teams in terms of their scrum, so we've got to be wary of that.
"We certainly know where they are on the ladder is not indicative of how good this team is."
The hosts should expect a fired-up Highlanders side given they're only one win outside the top eight in their own finals push.