Top flight rugby returns to Canberra as the CA Brumbies gather for the inaugural Australian Provincial Championship (APC).
The APC pits the Australian Super 14 provinces against one another with the Brumbies to host two home matches at Viking Park against the NSW Waratahs (September 8) and the Western Force on September 15.
The Brumbies will play their final round match against the Queensland Reds at Ballymore (September 23) with the final to be played on September 30.
Brumbies' APC coach Matt O'Connor says the tournament is an excellent opportunity for the squad to stake their claim in the lead-up to the 2007 Super 14 season.
“We’re definitely going out to win this competition,” he said.
“We’re providing players with the closest possible environment to Super 14 rugby and we’re demanding similar results. We’ve identified some aspects that weren’t up to speed during the Super 14 and we’re looking to improve on those in preparation for next season.
“This is a chance for those at the top end to push for Wallaby selection while others will be pushing for inclusion in our full-time program.”
The Brumbies’ squad features four Wallabies in Al Campbell, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Nic Henderson and newcomer Stephen Hoiles.
The tournament will be Hoiles’ first appearance in Brumbies’ colours since leaving the Waratahs, with fellow key signing Julian Huxley returning to the Brumbies after four seasons with the Reds.
Campbell, who will captain the Brumbies' APC squad, says that he is expecting a large crowd for each of their two home matches.
“We received a lot of support during the Super 14 season and I’d expect that to continue through the APC,” he said. “Canberra has always loved its rugby and the crowd at last week’s Wallabies’ training demonstrated the strength of Canberra’s rugby culture.
“Both the Waratahs and Force will bring several Wallabies [to Canberra] and, with positions for the [Wallabies’] Spring Tour up for grabs, each game will be very competitive. “With the crowd behind us, we’ll be looking to keep the ball in hand and play some entertaining running Brumbies rugby.”
The Brumbies’ 29-man APC squad features nine Academy representatives and all three Rookie-contracted players – Christian Lealiifano, Francis Fainifo and John Ulugia.
This year’s APC will be the last in its current format before an extended competition is introduced in 2007.