'The pressure is on them': Brumbies and Reds captains go head-to-head in war of words ahead of Super Rugby AU final
The table-topping Reds will look to avenge for last season’s grand final defeat to the Brumbies in Canberra by securing their first title since 2011 in front of what’s expected to be an almost sold-out crowd at Suncorp Stadium.
Such a big crowd for a Super Rugby fixture has become a rarity, not only in Brisbane, but across all of Australia in recent seasons.
The fact that more than 40,000 people are set to turn up to this season’s final is reflective of how significant the occasion is and what the highly-anticipated encounter means to the Queensland faithful.
It’s for that reason that Alaalatoa believes the hosts are under the more pressure than the defending champions to come up trumps, a sentiment he didn’t shy away from while speaking to media on Friday.
“We think the Reds are in red-hot form,” Alaalatoa said of the Queenslanders, who finished the regular season with seven wins from eight matches, their only defeat coming in their last match against a Jordan Olowofela-inspired Western Force outfit.
“They’re a team that have obviously beaten us twice and a team that’s been playing some great footy. They’ve got a home grand final in front of their fans, so we think that the pressure is on them.
“For us, it’s all about making sure that we do our job and that job was to have a good week of prep and just to be clear in our minds in our execution for tomorrow.”
However, despite Alaalatoa’s best attempt to get inside the heads of his opponents, Reds captain James O’Connor shrugged off any suggestion that his side’s form throughout the campaign dictates how much pressure they are feeling heading into the final.
“There’s always mind games in footy. We respect them and we know they’re a great outfit, but for us, it’s whoever wants it more,” O’Connor said in response to Alaalatoa’s comments.
“It’s a final. History doesn’t matter. It’s literally who’s going to turn up, so that’s all we’re thinking about.”
Given their dominance throughout the round-robin of Super Rugby AU, it’s unsurprising to see the Reds labelled by many as title favourites.
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In fact, that dominance has been harnessed by the franchise’s marketing team, who have promoted the grand final on social media this week as “our time” to clinch Queensland’s first championship in a decade.
Alaalatoa said he disregarded those claims as he acknowledged that the Reds are currently the premier side in Australia, a status the Brumbies know well as the reigning Super Rugby AU champions and three-time title-holders.
“When you’ve got a home grand final, when you’re playing some good footy and beaten the title defenders twice, you’d automatically have that vibe,” the 43-test Wallabies prop said.
“From us, we’ve got to come out and execute our game plan, try not to get too stirred up in all the emotional side of things and just understand what we need to do from the first minute to the 80th.”
O’Connor added that his side view the Brumbies with a high amount of respect given what they have achieved in the past.
“I think we respect them. We see them as being atop of the Australian franchises for a long time, even going back 20 years. I saw something the other night where they’ve won three Super titles, so we respect them,” the 30-year-old playmaker said.
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In spite of their opponents’ previous successes, though, O’Connor was adamant whoever walks away with the Super Rugby AU trophy on Saturday will be the side that goes into the match with the most pressing desire to win – irrespective of past results.
“This is the first silverware I’ve been a part of on Australian soil. For me, everyone just talks about it being another game, but it isn’t another game. It’s a final. My mindset going into this is it’s the last game of the year for me, so it’s do-or-die.”
That’s not to say the Brumbies won’t be short on motivation to overcome the odds and retain their title, as indicated by Alaalatoa, who described the upcoming final as one of the biggest matches in his career.
“It’ll be one of the biggest ones. That’s something that we’ve spoken about throughout the week. To come out here, to win a final away from home in front of a sold-out crowd, it’d be huge and one of our finest memories yet.”
Kick-off for the Super Rugby AU final is scheduled for 7:45pm on Saturday [AEST].
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