Saffa retains Brumbies start
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: The Brumbies have retained Ruan Smith as their starting tighthead prop while they have also received a significant boot in the loose forwards department ahead of their Highlanders clash.
The Brumbies will host the Highlanders in a Super Rugby playoff encounter at the Canberra Stadium on Friday.
The loose forward boost comes in the form of Wallaby David Pocock who returns to the starting XV having recovered from a fractured eye socket suffered in the first Test against England. The injury saw him being sidelined for six weeks but will now return in the No.7 jersey.
While Pocock's return is a huge boost for the side, newly-capped Wallabies lock Rory Arnold has been ruled out of this week's match after failing to recover from an elbow injury suffered during their win over the Force. Blake Enever will take Arnold's spot in the starting side.
In other changes for the squad, Robbie Coleman returns to the side after three weeks of strong performances for Queanbeyan. He replaces James Dargaville on the wing, who drops down to the extended bench.
Leslie Leulua'iali'i-Makin replaces Ben Alexander on the reserves list after he recovered from injury as well.
Head coach Stephen Larkham said he believed the Smith and Leulua'iali'i-Makin combination is suited against a strong Highlanders pack. Smith and Leulua'iali'i-Makin were the Brumbies' tighthead props when the side travelled to Invercargill earlier this year.
On that occasion, both teams were strong at the set-piece and it will be a critical part of the match again this Friday. Leulua'iali'i-Makin has missed a number of matches through injury following the June-break, however he played 80 minutes last week at club level and has continued to improve his game this season.
Smith will start alongside Scott Sio and co-captain Stephen Moore in the front row while Enever and Sam Carter are the locks. Scott Fardy packs down on the other side of the scrum while Jarrad Butler switches back to No.8.
Tomás Cubelli will start his first Super Rugby finals match at scrumhalf next to experienced co-captain Christian Lealiifano. Matt Toomua and Tevita Kuridrani are the centres. Coleman and Nigel Ah Wong have been named on the wings while Aidan Toua is the fullback.
The last time these two teams met was in Round 10 in Invercargill. On that occasion, the Highlanders claimed a 23-10 victory in wet and windy conditions.
Brumbies: 15 Aidan Toua, 14 Nigel Ah Wong, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Robbie Coleman, 10 Christian Lealiifano (co-captain), 9 Tomás Cubelli, 8 Jarrad Butler, 7 David Pocock, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Blake Enever, 3 Ruan Smith, 2 Stephen Moore (co-captain), 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements - from: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 Allan Alaalatoa, 18 Leslie Leulua'iali'i-Makin, 19 Tom Staniforth, 20 Michael Wells, 21 Joe Powell, 22 Andrew Smith, 23 James Dargaville, 24 Lausii Taliauli.
Date: Friday, July 22
Venue: Canberra Stadium, Canberra
Kick-off: 18.00 (08.00 GMT; 20.00 NZST)
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Ben O´Keeffe (New Zealand), Nic Berry (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)