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Brumbies v Highlanders - Preview

VENUE & TIME: Canberra Stadium - Friday - 19:35 AEST
HEAD TO HEAD: Brumbies 4 Highlanders 2
COVERAGE: Fox Sports
LAST TIME: Highlanders 16-9 - Dunedin

WALKING WOUNDED
Form outside-centre Stirling Mortlock could be out for the Brumbies for three weeks after straining ankle ligaments, while replacement centre James Holbeck has a corked leg. Centre Pat Howard and No.8 Peter Ryan are also struggling with similar injuries to Holbeck but will play.
Highlanders coach Laurie Mains hasn't mucked around this week. Jeff Wilson will have his first start of the season at fullback and captain Taine Randell starts at No 8. Gone are Romi Ropati, Willie Walker, Paul Miller and Filipo Levi with starts going to Kelvin Middleton, Aisea Tuilevu, Ilisea Tanivula and lock Brendan Timmons who plays his first game since the end of 2000.

FORM
Can you believe the Brumbies are heading for four losses on the trot ... if you watched their past two performances then yes. Against the Hurricanes and the Waratahs, the Brumbies had the territory and the possession to probably win a few games, but the skill that seems to come to them naturally, that of scoring tries, eluded them. It's not like the idea of putting pressure on them at the breakdown is anything new, but for the moment it's working a treat for the opposition.
The Highlanders really needed last week's bye after a disappointing 31-13 loss to the Waratahs the previous week. The Highlanders themselves acknowledged they had become a little flat after the physical battering of playing four South African sides in a row and needed the rest.

WHO'S NOT
The spat between the Waratahs and the Brumbies. Waratahs coach Bob Dwyer didn't hold back when he said George Gregan's attitude towards referees was costing the Brumbies dearly. Gregan was pinged for back-chatting during the loss to the Waratahs.

KEY MATCH-UPS
George Gregan v Byron Kelleher - The All Blacks half really put one over his Wallaby counterpart in the corresponding game last year.
George Smith v Taine Randell
Jeremy Paul v Anton Oliver

WE THINK
The Brumbies will be dangerously close to dropping out of the four if they lose this one and it's probably lucky they are not playing in Dunedin as the Highlanders, in their own battle to feature in the four, will be well rested. Brumbies by 7.