JOHANNESBURG – The one-time hot property of Australian rugby, the Brumbies, are hoping to take advantage of a travel-weary Lions side when the teams meet at Ellis Park in a Super Rugby game on Saturday.
While the home team would ordinarily be the favourites to win the clash, the fact that they arrived back in South Africa earlier this week after a four-week trip of Australasia may just ensure the Brumbies wear the favourites' tag this weekend.
Coach Swys de Bruin’s men are reeling after a disappointing tour Down Under where they started with a surprising 29-0 win against the Waratahs but then lost three on the trot to the Reds, Hurricanes and Highlanders.
On top of that they have lost inspirational hooker Malcolm Marx to injury, while it is doubtful that Warren Whiteley will play for the team before the June break.
It’s not a happy Lions camp and the Brumbies seem to believe they have an opportunity to pull off what would be a surprise win. They arrived in Joburg earlier this week, but before they can even think about toppling the Lions they’re going to have to find some answers themselves about their poor run of form.
They’ve won only three times in 10 matches this year to be fourth in the Australian Conference and have not bagged a win in their last four outings.
They’ve also, somewhat surprisingly when compared to the heyday of Brumbies rugby, conceded 30 tries and scored only 28.
But the Brumbies are a side who should never be written off - several of their losses this year have come late on in games - and perhaps they may catch the Lions cold on Saturday.
De Bruin’s men have, after all, travelled from Joburg to Sydney, Brisbane, Wellington, Dunedin, Sydney and back to Joburg in the last few weeks.
“I don’t think two weeks (away together) is something you target to get the group together,” Brumbies captain Christian Leali’ifano told the Canberra Times about his team’s visit to South Africa, where they will also play the Bulls next weekend.
“We’ve been together for a while now. We just have to learn lessons in the losses. Is two weeks enough to get that done... we don’t know.”
The Brumbies are no longer the team that won the competition under the guidance of Eddie Jones and David Nucifora in 2001 and 2004 respectively, when such players as George Gregan, Stephen Larkham, Matt Giteau, Joe Roff, George Smith, Radike Samo and Owen Finegan were all superstars.
In a tight game that for a long period was locked at 3-3 in Canberra last year, Kwagga Smith scored a late try to help the Lions edge the hosts 13-6.
The visitors this week will bank on seasoned backs like Henry Speight, Tevita Kuridrani and Leali’ifano - all quality Wallabies players - and forwards like Scott Sio, Allan Alaalatoa, Rory Arnold and Sam Carter, and may even welcome back from injury outstanding flank David Pocock.
Both teams have plenty to prove this weekend and it really is anyone’s game to win. Kick-off is 5.15pm SA time.