Auckland Blues v ACT Brumbies semi-final key match-ups


Nic White v Finlay Christie

The Wallabies halfback’s kicking game will be critical if the showers forecast for Auckland on Saturday turn up. His ability to kick long takes so much pressure off Lolesio, but it’s his famously competitive edge that sets him apart. He appeared to get under the skin of Blues halfback Finlay Christie in the game in Canberra last month, and his form is right where it needs to be with Test rugby around the corner. Christie’s game is built on speed – he lives off quick ruck ball, which is why the Brumbies cannot afford to let the Blues’ ball carriers to get across the gainline.

Advantage Brumbies

Irae Simone v Roger Tuivasa-Sheck

The France-bound Simone has a big job to do in the absence of the suspended Len Ikitau. The Blues love a midfield strike move, and they have a heap of runners to use as decoy runners before releasing the likes of Tuivasa-Sheck or Rieko Ioane.

Irae Simone and Roger Tuivasa-SheckCredit:Getty

Simone’s connection with new midfield partner Ollie Sapsford will be critical, because the Blues punished the Highlanders’ midfield for some indecision last week. Tuivasa-Sheck’s footwork is another challenge, although Simone showed he is no slouch on that front last week with a fine try against the Hurricanes.

Advantage Blues

James Slipper v Nepo Laulala

The Brumbies will probably have to get ascendancy at scrum time to pull off an upset. Slipper might have fancied his chances against Ofa Tuungafasi after watching him struggle against the Highlanders last week, but the Blues have demoted him to the bench in favour of the powerful Laulala. The Brumbies’ scrum was outstanding when they beat the Chiefs in Hamilton, but couldn’t repeat that performance in the home loss to the Crusaders. A close call.

Draw

Pete Samu v Adrian Choat

Samu’s performance at No 7 will be closely watched by Dave Rennie: it may determine the makeup of the Wallabies bench if Samu and Fraser McReight are effectively vying for the same spot.

Pete Samu on the burst.

Pete Samu on the burst.Credit:Getty

After spending the season at No 8, Samu has made the shift to accommodate the in-form Tom Hooper at No 6, with Rob Valetini returning to complete the trio.

On paper, the Brumbies might sense an advantage here with Blues captain and No 7 Dalton Papali missing as he recovers from appendicitis. His replacement, Adrian Choat, goes hard at the ball and is a fine player, but he lacks Papalii’s size.

Advantage Brumbies

Prediction

As outlined above, there are a number of one-on-ones that go either way. The Brumbies will like their mix of workrate and out-and-out punch in the backrow, and White’s experience and all-round game compared to Christie.

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However, the Blues are a different team at Eden Park, and a difficult team to contain across 80 minutes. Look at the names in the backline: Barrett, Tuivasa-Sheck, Ioane, Perofeta. At Super Rugby level, where there is that extra space, that quartet spells danger for any side.

The Brumbies will also face a formidable bench, with Luke Romano, Karl Tu’inukuafe and Zarn Sullivan all capable of stepping up in a tight game. Throw in a crowd that might nudge 30,000, and the Blues hold the advantage.

Watch every match of the Super Rugby Pacific on the Home of Rugby, Stan Sport. Semi-finals this week with Crusaders v Chiefs (Friday 5.05pm AEST) and Blues v Brumbies (Saturday 5.05pm) both streaming ad-free, live and on demand only on Stan Sport.



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