Preview: Brumbies v Highlanders
SUPER RUGBY QUARTERFINALS: The bookmakers have made the Highlanders favourites, but there may be a couple of factors they did not take into account.
First there is the David Pocock factor and then there is the weather, which could be a real leveller.
There is a likelihood of wet weather, something the Highlanders don't have to worry about when playing at their indoor stadium at home.
But Pocock is probably the a bigger threat.
Brumbies assistant coach Dan McKellar readily admits Pocock's return from injury is "huge" for the home team.
"It is just the confidence he gives the players around him," McKellar said, adding that his value on defence, with his ability at the breakdown, adds tremendous value.
"They way he is able to create turnovers regularly is what makes him so valuable."
The last time the Brumbies and Highlanders met was in April in Invercargill and the Highlanders did a number on the Australian franchise.
"The Highlanders probably worded up the referee before the game, which was smart on their behalf," the Brumbies' assistant coach said.
He added there are things they will raise with the referee if they feel they need to be raised.
However, of bigger concern is the Brumbies' lack of tries in the last few weeks.
"A lot of our players came off the back of a tough Test series [with the Wallabies] against England and it took us a while to get back into rhythm with our attack.
The likelihood of the wet weather is something the Highlanders have planned for and will bank on their underrated pack to do the job for them if things get tight.
"If they can get us enough quality ball you know what quality weapons we have got out in our backline and all I have to do is just feed them and let them do their job," All Black and Highlanders flyhalf Lima Sopoaga told superrugby.co.nz.
"This is what we play rugby for, it's the big occasion and looking back on last year and how special it was hopefully we can look to do something similar but, as always, it's one week at a time and you never know when you time is up so this week is all Brumbies and that's it."
Players to watch:
For the Brumbies: Tevita Kuridrani is the power in the midfield, but playmakers Matt Toomua and Christian Lealiifano hold the key to how the backline will fire. Argentina scrumhalf Tomás Cubelli is another key player in the Brumbies set-up. No doubt David Pocock will have a huge role to play.
For the Highlanders: You can start with the Smiths, Ben Smith and Aaron. However, with Waisake Naholo, Matt Faddes, Malakai Fekitoa, Patrick Osborne and Lima Sopoaga the Highlanders have strike power across their entire backline. Luke Whitelock at lock is a selection many pundits have queried.
Head to head: The breakdown battle will be just as big as the set-piece battle - David Pocock and Scott Fardy (Brumbies) against Shane Christie and Elliot Dixon (Highlanders). Christian Lealiifano (Brumbies) against Lima Sopoaga (Highlanders) at flyhalf is also worth getting an entry ticket. Then you must wonder how Robbie Coleman (Brumbies) will contain Waisake Naholo (Highlanders) ... will it be with a little help of his friends?
Prediction: The Brumbies have won seven of their last nine games against the Highlanders, though they scored only 10 points against them in an away loss to the New Zealand side in round 10 this season. The Highlanders will be searching for back-to-back wins against the Brumbies for the first time since 2006 after snatching a low-scoring victory in their last encounter. The Brumbies have won their last four games at home, outscoring opponents by a combined 156-45, though they've won just one of their last four home games against New Zealand opponents. The Brumbies have averaged 17 minutes and 28 seconds in possession per game this season, the second most of any team and the most of any team that has made it through to the post season. Lima Sopoaga has kicked 27 penalty goals so far this season, the equal most of any player, on his way to 177 points, only seven behind league-leader Beauden Barrett (184). It will be close - five points or less - but the Highlanders will advance to the semifinals.