22 Jul 2016

Highlanders title defence on the line

9:55 am on 22 July 2016

The Brumbies are confident they're ready to match wits with the Highlanders in tonight's Super Rugby quarter-final in Canberra, as the visitors look to keep their title defence alive.

Highlanders celebrate a Waisake Naholo try.

Highlanders celebrate a Waisake Naholo try. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The Highlanders have gained a deserved reputation for their clever and varied tactical game, mixing offensive kicking with blistering ball-in-hand attack when the time is right.

Brumbies co-captain Stephen Moore admits his team need to play more intelligently in both attack and defence than they did when beaten 23-10 win by the Highlanders in round 10 in Invercargill.

"We need to be a bit smarter about where we play tomorrow night and still take our opportunities when we see them," Moore said.

"I think they'll make the breakdown a priority and make sure they get their quick ball, but they'll probably slow our ball down as well.

"They'll look for holes in our line off kick-chase and little short-sides - it's all those little things that we need to be really sharp with."

With the Highlanders boasting a backline featuring All Blacks in fullback Ben Smith, winger Waisake Naholo, first-five Lima Sopoaga and halfback Aaron Smith, the Brumbies are bracing for a fast game.

Coach Stephen Larkham said their mobility, set-piece and the kicking game from the likes of Smith and Sopoaga posed the biggest danger.

"They've got a pretty good all-round game," he added.

"We've got a lot of respect for them, but we've done some pretty good work this week to be ready for what they're going to throw at us.

"We've put a bit of focus into making sure our set-piece defence is good and ... our kicking game and how to nullify their kicking game."

The Brumbies, Australia's only team in the finals, have been bolstered by the return of superstar flanker David Pocock from an eye socket injury and welcome back Robbie Coleman on the wing.

The Highlanders are in a similar situation to last year when they came from fourth on the table to win the title, winning knockout games on the road including the final.

They qualified third in the overall standings, nine points ahead of the Brumbies, though they have to travel for the quarter-final due to the conference playoff system.

Hooker Ash Dixon said they can't draw too much from their play-off run last year.

"What we did last year was pretty special but last year's done. This year's a whole different ball game, obviously with travel and different teams and what not that you've just got to take it as it comes and roll with the punches. Every team is different you've got to prepare differently for each different team and you've just got get your prep right and go out and play some good footy."

The Brumbies finished top of what most pundits considered a weak Australian Conference, but Dixon isn't discounting them, especially at home.

"They've got a lot of threats in their side that you've got to take care of. If we brought our 'B' game or didn't play to our potential we'd get beaten easily so we've got to play as well as we have been playing and if we don't play to that potential we will get beaten, this Brumbies team is really dangerous."

The match kicks off at 8pm.