The defiant ACT Brumbies are refusing to give up on their finals hopes despite winning just three games this year, adamant they can ignite their campaign if they beat the Melbourne Rebels on Saturday.
Brumbies and Wallabies lock Rory Arnold expects Australian derby rivalries and individual battles for Test jerseys to add fuel to the fire when the teams clash at Canberra Stadium.
The Brumbies are fourth in the Australian conference and in danger of having their season ruined if they lose against the Rebels for the second time this season.
But Arnold says the players are drawing confidence from their tight matches so far and was unequivocal when asked if the Brumbies had enough self-belief to make the play-offs.
"Absolutely [we do]," Arnold said. "We've been so close [each week], the Crusaders are top of the log and we stuck it to them. We probably should have won if we managed that last 20 [minutes] a bit better.
"So there's still the belief we can go deep in the competition. We've let a few home games slip, this is a must win for us … We're not far off. If we can take our opportunities I think we can go pretty far into it."
Scrumhalf Joe Powell echoed Arnold's view, declaring: "The season's definitely not over for us.
"Everyone has written us off. We haven't put ourselves in a good position but we play our best footy when we're under pressure so hopefully we get ourselves out of it."
Arnold is in career-best perform and has transformed himself into an 80-minute powerhouse this season.
He will test himself against Wallabies and Rebels duo Adam Coleman and Matt Philip as Wallabies competition heats up before a mid-year series against Ireland.
"I saw a few of the Rebels boys up at Wallabies camp [on Sunday and Monday] and they're pretty keen to get stuck into us," Arnold said.
"They've got the wood on us at the moment so we've got to square it up. There are [Wallabies] battles all across the board so it's a massive game for players to put their hands up for higher honours."
The Rebels demolished the Brumbies earlier this season, piling on the points in the second half to run away with a 33-10 win.
The Brumbies haven't been able to hit top gear since and have lost their past two games in a row at home. They haven't lost three games in a row in Canberra since 2011.
But the chance keep their season alive and find individual form will add extra incentive to the Brumbies' mission to turn around their season.
Cheika hosted a two-day Wallabies camp earlier this week to start preparations for the three-Test series against Ireland in June.
Rebels scrumhalf Will Genia is racing the clock to be fit for the series after injuring his knee last week, but his absence has opened the door for Brumbies No. 9 Joe Powell to force his way into Wallabies gold.
"I haven't been playing my best rugby, so for me it's about being at my best for the Brumbies," Powell said.
"I've got to minimise my errors, make sure my service is quick and clean and play well so the team can play well."
SUPER RUGBY ROUND 13
Saturday: ACT Brumbies v Melbourne Rebels at Canberra Stadium, 7.45pm. Tickets available from Ticketek.
Chris Dutton is a sports reporter at The Canberra Times.
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