WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) -- The defending champion New South Wales Waratahs face the ACT Brumbies on Friday in a 12th-round Super Rugby match that may decide first place in the Australian conference impact on the selection of the first Wallabies team of the season.
The Brumbies have a 6-4 record and lead the conference by four points from the Waratahs, who are 6-3 with a game in hand.
The Waratahs need a bonus point win to immediately move into first place and have a relatively favorable finish to their regular season with matches against the last-placed Western Force, the Queensland Reds (13th), the Cheetahs (12th) and the Sharks (10th).
The Brumbies, who have a bye remaining, have yet to travel to South Africa to face conference leaders the Stormers and the eighth-placed Lions.
The Waratahs beat the Brumbies 28-13 at home in round six, but lost 28-23 when the teams last met in Canberra in the 2014 season. They enter the match on a form upswing after wins over the first-placed Hurricanes and the Melbourne Rebels, unbeaten in their last four matches against Australian opponents.
The Brumbies' 31-18, bonus point win over the Highlanders last weekend was a return to form after losses to the Rebels and the Auckland-based Blues in previous matches. They took a four-try bonus point from their win over the Highlanders and three of those tries were scored from rolling mauls by flanker David Pocock.
The Waratahs' ability to counter the rolling maul, and the referee's interpretation both of its use and the defenses against it, will play a substantial part in deciding Friday's match.
New South Wales were more physical than the Brumbies when they met for the first time this season and the Brumbies are determined to compete more effectively on Friday in the contest for possession.
"They definitely won the collisions last time," Brumbies prop Ben Alexander. "So we'll take lessons from that and look at why that was and work on areas to make sure we up it.
"It's a big match. We've got big ambitions. We've stated that we want to win Super Rugby this year and if you are going to do this, you want to beat the side that won it last year," Alexander added.
The match includes a number of compelling individual contests, among them the clash in the loose of Pocock and Waratahs captain Michael Hooper, and in midfield between Adam Ashley-Cooper and the Brumbies' Tevita Kuridrani.
"Adam's been playing a really good game ever since he came back from injury and I'm just really looking forward to the challenge of playing against him," Kuridrani said.
The other feature of the 12th round will be the clash between the Wellington-based Hurricanes and Christchurch-based Crusaders. The Hurricanes returned to first place with last weekend's 35-19 win over the Reds but need to win again to hold out the challenge for first place from the Chiefs, who play the Rebels in Melbourne.
The Crusaders have been mediocre this season and showed a flicker of improvement with their 11th-round win over the Blues, though the under-performing Auckland side are a poor yardstick.
The Hurricanes will be bolstered by the return from injury of All Blacks hooker Dane Coles and talented young fullback Nehe Milner-Skudder and will likely to be too strong for the Crusaders who lack an attacking edge.
The Cape Town-based Stormers and Pretoria-based Bulls will continue their contest for first place in South Africa in derby matches against the Cheetahs and Lions respectively.