Final time. After 22 punishing rounds of rugby just two sides remain to contest the Super 15 crown.
It’s New Zealand vs. Australia as the Waikato Chiefs meet the ACT Brumbies. Will the Chiefs make it back-to-back successes or can the Brumbies usurp them in their own backyard?
Who: Waikato Chiefs vs. ACT Brumbies
When: Saturday, August 3, at 8:35 a.m. (BST) or 3:35 a.m. (ET)
Where: Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
So far, so good for the Chiefs. They topped the group stage, boast a 100 percent home record in this year’s competition, and established themselves as New Zealand’s top side by beating the Canterbury Crusaders in the semi-finals.
But they will be concerned that for large portions against the Crusaders they were outfought and were fortunate to escape with victory after Super Rugby’s most successful side spurned a host of chances.
The Chiefs are chasing back-to-back titles after defeating the Sharks 37-6 in last year’s final and will welcome home advantage again against the Brumbies.
“There has been an enormous amount of hard work to get us into this position and we are excited to be playing in front of the people who mean the most to us,” said Chiefs coach Dave Rennie, as reported by the official website.
It promises to be an emotional night for the Chiefs as they bid farewell to five players—Craig Clarke, Richard Kahui, Lelia Masaga, Toby Smith and Brendon Leonard—per The Fiji Times.
Gareth Anscombe, who was restored to the side last week following a broken foot, will fight Aaron Cruden for kicking duties with the outcome of the match heavily dependent on which side can convert their chances.
The Brumbies, meanwhile, are on the verge of completing a remarkable season. Not only have they returned to the Super Rugby final for the first time in nine years, but they also became the first provincial side to beat the British and Irish Lions since 1997.
They threatened to throw away their hard work against Western Force on the final day of the regular season, but recovered to win a tight play-off against the Cheetahs before beating the Bulls in South Africa to earn a final spot.
Christian Lealiifano was deadly with the boot in the Brumbies' semi-final, keeping the scoreboard ticking over as they secured a famous win, and if the kicker hits top form the visitors have a great chance.
Coach Jake White told the official website: “They are the champions, they have been here before and are playing at home so for our guys to beat the Chiefs will take a huge effort.
“Our players have worked hard to get to this final and I can assure you they are not thinking of leaving here without another Brumbies championship.”
Both sides keep faith with the XV who propelled them into the final although the hosts are sweating on the fitness of Masaga with Robbie Robinson on standby, according to The National.
It promises to be an epic final.
Prediction: Chiefs 20 – 23 Brumbies. Brumbies to add to their Lions success by ending the Chiefs’ 100 percent home record in a nail-biting contest.