Similar styles puts finalists on collision course
July 31, 2013
Journeyman George Smith has been leading the Brumbies forward pack well with skipper Ben Mowen © Getty Images
The two teams who have found their way to the Super Rugby final in Hamilton this weekend - the Chiefs and the Brumbies - have very similar characteristics.
At this juncture of the year, when bonus points and playing an expansive game of rugby are of little value, two of the competition's best defensive sides will now decide the season's honours.
Both teams like to control territory. Both teams like to contest all parts of the game. Both teams have defences which, at their best, yield no ground. And let's not forget, both sides have only lost four matches in their regular seasons. And the Brumbies are only second to the Stormers for the fewest points conceded.
When push comes to shove, especially at the business end of the season, defence is usually the difference between winning and losing. It comes down to which team takes its opportunities the best. And as we saw in both semi-finals, we can probably expect this game to go right to the death.
So what will the Brumbies be looking to do on Saturday night?
First and foremost, as they showed all season, they like to play at the right end of the ground. They are a team with great structure and understanding of how to build pressure, and they have the mark of Jake White written all over them.
The Brumbies do a number of things very well. Their kicking game is long and accurate. Their kick-chase organisation is disciplined, and their ball retention is second to none. They have an extremely hard-working forward pack led by George Smith and Ben Mowen and a set piece which is efficient and has the ability to challenge the opposition.
They also have an attacking backline which is under-appreciated, particularly with X-factor players like Jesse Mogg, Henry Speight and Tevita Kuridrani. They have a line-breaking ability that should not be under-estimated.
So, how should they attack the Chiefs?
I can guarantee one thing they won't change is the way they play. They have been consistent throughout the season, playing a game based around discipline and accuracy. They will target the Chiefs' lineout, just as the Crusaders did last weekend. They will challenge the breakdown as they have constantly through the season.
They will put the ball high in the air and challenge the Chiefs back three to secure possession under pressure and, with a prolific goal-kicker in Christian Leali'ifano, they will look to accumulate points. They will dare the Chiefs to counterattack with deep kicks and challenge them to take unnecessary risks.
And now for the Chiefs ... last weekend they finally put together a full 80-minute performance. Their first half demonstrated their ability to hang in, something they have managed all year. This is a game where they will look to control the territorial battle but also not be afraid to counter-attack if the opportunity arises.
The Chiefs have been challenged, particularly at lineout time in recent weeks and they will focus heavily on their set piece for the weekend.
They too, have a number of game-breakers in their side. Lelia Masaga, Asaeli Tikoirotuma and Aaron Cruden can seize limited opportunities for great reward. When the Chiefs get confidence and momentum they are very difficult to hold out. Expect them to come out of the gates very quickly, look to also control territory but, at the first opportunity, to use the ball to find space.
Lelia Masaga and the Chiefs back three can seize limited opportunities for great reward © Getty Images
They will use the long-kicking game of Cruden and Gareth Anscombe to turn the Brumbies around but also the short-kicking game of Cruden and Andrew Horrell to find space in behind a very flat Brumbies' defensive line.
The Chiefs are also masters at turning defensive pressure into points. They will challenge all kickers, a tactic we have seen with great reward with charge downs, and put immense pressure on the Brumbies' inside backs to make very quick and accurate decisions.
As we saw in both semi-finals, it's about winning the big moments and making the right tactical decisions. Both sides have superb coaching resources and detailed game plans. I expect a number of momentum shifts through the course of the 80 minutes and there will be, at some point, an action that could decide this match.
You don't make finals unless you deserve to and by the Brumbies beating the Bulls in Pretoria and the Chiefs beating the red hot Crusaders both teams deserve the honour of being the 2013 Super Rugby champion.
Follow live text commentary of the Super Rugby Final between the Chiefs and the Brumbies on Saturday, August 3, from 7pm (NZT), 5pm (EST), 7am (GMT)
© ESPN Australia / New Zealand
The latest Week in Pictures takes in a fiery East Midlands derby and all the action from the Aviva Premiership and Top 14
The rolling maul is becoming an increasingly potent attacking weapon. Conor O'Shea looks at the difficulties of stopping it
The news of James Horwill, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Dan Carter's respective transfers will open the floodgates, writes Tom Hamilton