Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Unexpected match-up adds mystery to Hamilton final

There will be no secrets about the way the Brumbies will play. Photo / Getty Images
There will be no secrets about the way the Brumbies will play. Photo / Getty Images

The quirks of the draw have added an extra layer of mystery about the Super 15 final in Hamilton.

The defending champion Chiefs and Brumbies have not played this season and both coaching staffs will be scrambling to collect the data they need in the leadup to the final.

Neither side carried broad favouritism before its semifinal and the showdown this Saturday was the less-favoured forecast and payday for the bookmakers.

The Brumbies used the same starting side for playoff wins against the Cheetahs and Bulls but the Chiefs began their semifinal win against the Crusaders with four different backs from their previous match.

Andrew Horrell and Charlie Ngatai started in midfield, Asaeli Tikoirotuma came on to the wing and Gareth Anscombe was at fullback in a combination designed to counter the demands from the Crusaders.

That meant no place in the run on side for All Black forwards Ben Afeaki or Sam Cane, while Bundee Aki - who had started in most of the matches this season - was also on the bench.

Those ideas may alter this week as Dave Rennie and his coaching crew map out the game plan and players to fit their title defence.

They will host Henry Speight, who played for Waikato in the ITM Cup, while other squad members Christian Lealiifano, Fotua Aulea, Jordan Smiler and Joseph Tomane were all born in New Zealand.

There will be no secrets about the way the Brumbies will play. Inside their half they have been reluctant to spread the ball far from the inside channels using either Nic White, Matt Toomua or Jesse Mogg to kick for territory or contested up and unders.

That pattern continued in their gutsy semifinal win against the Bulls where a combative pack guided by strong skipper Ben Mowen and outstanding flanker George Smith kept the heat on the hosts.

The Brumbies scrum was steady with young Scott Sio an ever-improving find at loosehead prop. Substitutions saw a decrease in that stability while Mowen, Sam Carter, Peter Kimlin and Scott Fardy are the lineout targets for the combative Wallaby hooker Stephen Moore.

Out the back is stability and rising firepower from Tevita Kuridrani, who has given the Brumbies some attacking sting and strong defence at centre. Mogg's game has also moved up a gear and he was rewarded with a test debut against the Lions.

The Brumbies victory in Pretoria was the first any side had registered against the Bulls on their home patch this season in another pointer about the mental resilience they have shown all year.

They have drawn twice and lost four times, with their heaviest defeat being the 22-35 loss to the Stormers in Cape Town. The Chiefs have been beaten four times with a solitary loss at home to the Reds.

- NZ Herald

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Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

The latest commentary and analysis from senior rugby writer Wynne Gray. Wynne has been covering the All Blacks for more than 27 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

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