Brumbies seek accuracy, Force seek confidence in Super Rugby
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The only unbeaten team after five rounds in Super Rugby Pacific, the ACT Brumbies, say they won’t rest on their laurels as they begin a potentially lengthy road trip with a match at Perth on Saturday against the Western Force.
The Brumbies kept their perfect record when they edged the previously-unbeaten Queensland Reds 16-12 in a top-of-the-table match last weekend. That win avenged their equally narrow loss to the Reds in last year’s final of Super Rugby Australia.
The Brumbies now take on the Force, the Reds and the Fijian Drua away from home on consecutive weekends and, after a break, the Dunedin-based Highlanders in New Zealand if the relaxation of border restrictions allows trans-Tasman competition.
Head coach Dan McKellar made plain his belief the Brumbies didn’t play up to the standard he expected last weekend. The players have taken to heart his concerns and pledged more accountability as they face new challenges away from home.
“We’re feeling good at 5-0,” Brumbies and Wallabies backrower Rob Valetini said. “Obviously we think there’s a lot of room for improvement.
“As you saw with Friday’s game, it was a bit scrappy from us so we found a way to win. I think it all starts with training, just being accountable and players being responsible for their own roles in the team to make sure we can do our jobs at the best of our ability.”
Valetini and the Brumbies’ backrow have played a major role in their team’s success this season. Set pieces usually also are a strength but strong Reds defense exposed issues with first-phase attacks.
“We weren’t accurate with our set-piece attack,” Valetini said. “There was plenty of drop ball in contact. We just weren’t accurate with our skills in attack so it was very sloppy and there were plenty of scrums and lineouts.”
The Brumbies beat the Force 29-23 in the first round of the season, clinching their win late, and Valetini expects another tight contest in hot conditions.
“We know they are going to have a lot of possession,” he said. “We had good patches on the weekend but we’re not happy with just making tackles. We’re trying to force mistakes through poaching or getting through the ruck.”
The Force have a 2-3 record after five matches and come into Saturday’s match off a confidence-building win over the Drua. Bayley Kuenzle kicked a penalty four minutes after the fulltime siren to clinch the victory.
Head coach Tim Sampson believes the Force at times this season have been too tentative in their approach and has called on his players to “loosen their shoulders” against the competition leaders.
“It’s about encouraging players to play with confidence,” Sampson said. “In golfing terms, individuals have got the yips with their game. They only need one good moment in training or early on in the game to get through that.
“We spoke about it this week and I think already we’ve seen at training that they’ve relaxed their shoulders a bit. They have to go out and play with confidence.”
In New Zealand on Saturday, the Christchurch-based Crusaders and Hamilton-based Chiefs meet again only two weeks after the Chiefs scored late to beat the Crusaders 24-21.
Both teams have had to cope with COVID-19 outbreaks and the Chiefs had 17 players out when they beat Moana Pasifika last weekend.
The Crusaders have looked hard-pressed this week to assemble a team but coach Scott Robertson has named a strong side with eight All Blacks in the starting 15.
In other weekend matches, Moana Pasifika play the Hurricanes in Auckland and the Melbourne Rebels play the Drua, both on Friday. On Saturday, the Reds play the New South Wales Waratahs in Brisbane.
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