A big final place is up for grabs when the Blues and Brumbies meet in the second Super Rugby Pacific semi-final. Rejoin the roar for live scores and commentary from 5:05 p.m. AEST.
The Brumbies’ chances of beating the rampant Blues have suffered a setback with Test center Len Ikitau banned for his red card last week.
Ikitau was ejected for a hit on Hurricanes flyhalf Aidan Morgan in the Brumbies’ 35-25 win on Saturday.
Ikitau is banned for three weeks but only two games because he chose to undertake a coaching intervention.
Brumbies head coach Dan McKellar said Ikitau was “broken”.
“That’s the way the game goes with high contact,” McKellar said. “We thought there were mitigating factors, the court panel didn’t, so unfortunately he misses the rest of our season.
“He is broken. very disappointed. He has never received a yellow card in his career, so getting a red card and being left out of the two biggest games of the year is hard for him to accept.
“He now understands that his role is to help Ollie and the backs defensively as he always does.”
McKellar said Ikitau was “remarkable in offering his thoughts on the incident.
In more encouraging news for the Brumbies, Rob Valetini returns from injury at No.8 in what, other than Ikitau, is a full roster.
The Blues named their squad on Thursday with three starting changes.
Nepo Laulala replaces Ofa Tuungafasi at the accessory, AJ Lam arrives on the left wing after Bryce Heem’s header and Josh Goodhue will start at the lock.
The Blues have four locks in their 23 due to the absences of loose forwards Dalton Papalii and Anton Segner.
The Brumbies found joy in the breakdown, successfully slowing the Blues’ ruck speed, while putting the Kiwis on the back foot through the use of their rolling maul weapon.
“They were up for it,” Coventry told reporters.
“They were playing as close to the law as possible to stay in the game. Breakdown physics is what most teams are looking for and they were after that. They played on the edge and they were penalized for it. This week I’m sure they would have talked about their discipline and I’m sure they’ll be better there.
“We had three guys held over the line so we were to blame for not finishing so well. We will start from scratch.
It’s hard to look past the Blues in this one, with potential points in the back line likely to open up Brumby’s defense on regular occasions.
Holding midfield is a must for the visitors if they hope to stay in the game until the second half. However, doing so and defending much more aggressively than they did in those three season-ending losses could give the Brumbies a chance at what would be a significant upset.
Still, the Blues’ form cannot be ignored, and at the back of the class in halves and an explosive cross pairing, the home side should stamp their authority in this one soon enough.
Venue: Eden Park
To start up: 5:05 p.m. (AEST)
Direct: Stan Sports
Bet: Blues $1.14, Brumbies $5.75 – odds via Overdo it
BLUES (1-15): Alex Hodgman, Kurt Eklund, Nepo Laulala, Josh Goodhue, Tom Robinson, Akira Ioane, Adrian Choat, Hoskins Sotutu, Finlay Christie, Beauden Barrett (c), Mark Telea, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Rieko Ioane, AJ Lam, Stephen Perofeta.
RESERVATIONS: Soane Vikena, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Ofa Tuungafasi, Luke Romano, James Tucker, Sam Nock, Tamati Tua, Zarn Sullivan.
BRUMBIES (1-15): James Slipper, Folau Fainga’a, Allan Alaalatoa, Darcy Swain, Caderyn Neville, Tom Hooper, Pete Samu, Rob Valetini, Nic White, Noah Lolesio, Andy Muirhead, Irae Simone, Ollie Sapsford, Tom Wright, Tom Banks.
RESERVATIONS: Lachlan Lonergan, Scott Sio, Sefo Kautai, Nick Frost, Luke Reimer, Jahrome Brown, Ryan Lonergan, Hudson Creighton.