Wallabies litmus test as Brumbies play host to Chiefs
The pointy-end of the Super Rugby Pacific is coming and Stephen Larkham says his Brumbies are "sharpening the edges" ahead of a crunch encounter with the Chiefs.
The ACT coach admitted a "deflating" feeling around the group after an undermanned side lost 34-19 to the Western Force last weekend, but said the extra rest for seven Wallabies would hold them in good stead for their last two regular season games and finals.
That run starts with the ladder-leading Chiefs on Saturday night, with the third-ranked Brumbies still an outside chance of a top-two finish and keen to secure a home final in the first week of the post-season at worst.
"They're top of the table at the moment, they're playing exceptional footy and have a really good combination out on the field," Larkham said.
"We're playing at home against the top of the competition and it's an exciting time for the boys to get out there and test themselves against a team that's gonna go deep into the finals.
"We've actually got a pretty good run, and if you look at the fact we've rested a couple of guys last week for the Force game, and then two games at home (it's an advantage) compared to some of the other teams.
"We've been lucky in terms of that, it's a good run for us coming into the finals, it sets us up well (but) we still want to get a performance this weekend."
All Blacks gun Damian McKenzie shifts from five-eighth to fullback for the Chiefs with red-hot No.15 Shaun Stevenson coming off the bench.
It presents as the perfect opportunity for Wallabies contenders Noah Lolesio and Tom Wright to make a statement for the Brumbies, while halfback Ryan Lonergan will also continue his starting role in the injury absence of Nic White.
Larkham, a stickler for taking things "one week at a time", acknowledged the excitement and expectations of finals were creeping in as Australia's leading side looks to stop the New Zealand domination from continuing.
"We're certainly sharpening the edges this week, but we've had the same focus all year in terms of focus on the next game, and it's no different now," he said.
"We know there are finals coming up, but we don't know what the finals look like at this stage.
"We've spoken about the fact there's going to be external expectations and opinions from the outside.
"But internally, we want to make sure that we're really focused on putting a good performance in for the game this weekend."