In the penultimate round of Super Rugby AU, four of the five teams are still fighting for a place in the finals with the Brumbies, Reds, Waratahs and Rebels all clambering for a top three position.
After their hammering win over the Waratahs last weekend, the Brumbies have all but secured their place in the final with the Reds sitting just two points behind. It means this weekend's game at Leichhardt Oval, between the Waratahs and Rebels, is a virtual playoff to see who'll round out the top three.
Read on for the team lists, odds and analysis of both this weekend's fixtures.
Friday, August 28
Brumbies: Tom Banks, Andy Muirhead, Solomone Kata, Irae Simone, Tom Wright, Bayley Kuenzle, Joe Powell; Pete Samu, Will Miller, Lachie McCaffrey, Cadeyrn Neville, Murray Douglas, Allan Alaalatoa, Connal McInerney, James Slipper.
Replacements: Folau Fainga'a, Scott Sio, Tom Ross, Darcy Swain, Rob Valetini, Nic White, Reesjan Pasitoa, Len Ikitau.
Force: Jack McGregor, Marcel Brache, Kyle Godwin, Henry Taefu, Brad Lacey, Jono Lance, Ian Prior; Henry Stowers, Kane Koteka, Fergus Lee Warner, Ollie Atkins, Jeremy Thrush, Kieran Longbottom, Andrew Ready, Pek Cowan.
Replacements: Feleti Kaitu'u, Chris Heiberg, Tom Sheminant, Tevin Ferris, Brynard Stander, Nick Frisby, Richard Kahui, Jake Strachan.
Odds [tab.com.au]: Brumbies $1.05 [-20.5 $1.90], Force $10 [+20.5 $1.90}
Verdict: Things only get tougher for the Force after the were hammered by the Reds on the Gold Coast, with the Brumbies ready to ramp up their road to the final with another impressive showing. Dan McKellar's side strangled the Waratahs for time and space, and dominated the set-piece, to put a young NSW side under pressure they simply couldn't handle last week. Sure, the Ryan Lonergan try came via a howler of a call from the TMO, but the Brumbies settled into a groove thereafter and really ran away with the match after halftime. The Force, meanwhile, are limping towards the end of the competition; a shortened preparation and lack of depth starting to catch up with Tim Sampson's side. They are playing a nice brand of rugby, but you just get the feeling the Brumbies will be too strong defensively in the opening quarter in Canberra and should then run away with this one pretty comfortable. Brumbies by 24.
Saturday, August 29
Rebels: Reece Hodge, Andrew Kellaway, Campbell Magnay, Matt To'omua, Marika Koroibete, Andrew Deegan, Frank Lomani; Isi Naisarani, Brad Wilkin, Michael Wells, Trevor Hosea, Matt Philip, Jermaine Ainsley, Jordan Uelese, Cameron Orr.
Replacements: Efitusi Maafu, Cabous Eloff, Pone Fa'amausili, Michael Stolberg, Richard Hardwick, James Tuttle, Billy Meakes, Tom Pincus.
Waratahs: Jack Maddocks, James Ramm, Joey Walton, Tepai Moeroa, Alex Newsome, Will Harrison, Jake Gordon; Jack Dempsey, Michael Hooper, Lachlan Swinton, Rob Simmons, Ned Hanigan, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Tom Horton, Tom Robertson.
Replacements: Robbie Abel, Tetera Faulkner, Angus Bell, Tom Staniforth, Will Harris, Mitch Short, Ben Donaldson, Nick Malouf.
Odds [tab.com.au]: Rebels $1.70 [-2.5 $1.90], Waratahs $2.15 [+2.5 $1.90]
Verdict: This game will all but decide the final team into the finals, with the Waratahs needing a bonus point victory to render the Rebels' final-round clash with the Force irrelevant. The chances of NSW achieving that appear slim, though, particularly after the Brumbies rumbled over the top of them in Canberra last week. The Waratahs need space to play their attacking style of rugby, Will Harrison in particular, and the Brumbies simply did not give it to them; McKellar's side preventing NSW from getting any quality ball and keeping them to just the one try. That should be the blueprint for the Rebels here, too. But they will want to be far more clinical than what they were in Brisbane a fornight ago when several decisions close to the tryline, and dropped balls over it, saw them miss a golden chance to claim a victory on the road. Look for a big game from Isi Naisarani, particularly given his match-up with the in-form Jack Dempsey, while noted defender Matt To'omua will be charged with getting up in the face of Harrison. Tepai Moeroa's promotion to the starting side for the first time in months is an interesting move by Waratahs coach Rob Penney. Rebels by 7.