Lealiifano seeks redemption


Lealiifano plays his 100th game for the Brumbies in Cape Town where he missed a potential match-winning conversion in last month's loss to the Stormers.

In Saturday's other elimination game, the Otago Highlanders will bank on their home ground dominance to knock out twice champions Waikato Chiefs in the all-New Zealand showdown.

The Brumbies missed out on crucial competition points when Lealiifano fluffed a simple try conversion with eight minutes left as the Stormers went on to win 25-24.

The South African media have this week been reminding the fly-half about his off-target kick.

“I wouldn't say redemption. I haven't thought about that kick until you just asked me,” Lealiifano told reporters.

“I've taken every game as if it's going to be my last, so playing 100 games is a special time. I'm going to give the team as much as I can and hopefully we can get the result.”

Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham backed Lealiifano to rise to the occasion and make amends for that miss.

“He's working very hard at it and that's what gives everyone confidence around him,” Larkham said. “Particularly since that miss, Christian has spent more time in training practising his conversions and penalty kicks.

“I think we saw a bit of a turnaround over the last month with his goal-kicking.”

Wallaby flanker David Pocock is on track to play for the Brumbies, but playmaker Matt Toomua remains in doubt.

Pocock missed the second half of last week's loss to the Canterbury Crusaders after failing a concussion test.

“He's on track to play,” Larkham said. “He'll certainly be available for selection at this stage.”

Toomua pulled up sore following his stint off the bench against the Crusaders in just his second game in eight matches following ankle injuries.

“Coming back from a syndesmosis ... everything is cleared medically, it's just whether he feels good, which I suspect he will,” Larkham said.

The Stormers are South Africa's last hope for Super 15 glory this season after topping the national conference by three points from the Golden Lions but with the least competition points of all the six play-off teams.

The Cape Town-based side have scored just 32 tries in 16 games and have only managed two four-try bonus points.

But they are stronger in defence, letting in just 35 tries and remain a tough side to break down.

Much depends on flanker Siya Kolisi in the absence of captain Duane Vermeulen, and he will have to compete strongly at the breakdown against Pocock.

The Highlanders, the second-best Kiwi team behind tearaway leaders Wellington Hurricanes, are strengthened by the return from injury of No.8 Nasi Manu, All Blacks centre Malakai Fekitoa and lock Mark Reddish.

“Nasi's a real spiritual leader for us,” scrum-half Aaron Smith said. “He does a lot of key talking to the big boys especially.

“He sets the mood with the way he plays, he's a pretty easy man to follow.”

The Highlanders spanked the Chiefs 36-9 in Invercargill three weeks ago, scoring four unanswered tries.

Otago snatched a late 20-17 win over the Chiefs in their other meeting in Hamilton in March through two penalties after the Chiefs had dominated possession and territory.

“They're a very smart team and they've also got a real good culture down there. It looks like they play for each other so it's going to be a hell of game,” Chiefs skipper Liam Messam said.

The Chiefs, winners in 2012 and 2013, have hooker Hika Elliot and flanker Sam Cane back, while Brad Weber starts at scrum-half after Chiefs dynamo Augustine Pulu fractured a forearm.

The Wellington Hurricanes and defending champions NSW Waratahs face the qualifier winners in the following week's semi-finals. – AFP

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