The Force have sprung a surprise at fullback for their historic Super Rugby AU final against the Brumbies.
The Force have sprung a surprise for their historic Super Rugby AU final against the Brumbies, with little-known fullback Jake Strachan handed his first start of the season.
Read on for all the latest AU and Aotearoa team news.
SUPER RUGBY AU QUALIFYING FINAL
BRUMBIES vs FORCE, Saturday 7.45pm AEST at GIO Stadium
Brumbies coach Dan McKellar has welcomed back Wallabies James Slipper, Nic White, Pete Samu and Irae Simone to a powerful starting side for Saturday’s qualifying final against the Force.
Samu’s return to No.8 allows Rob Valetini to revert to his preferred position of blindside flanker while Rory Scott holds his spot on the openside after an impressive starting debut before the bye.
Loose forward Luke Reimer is in line for his Super Rugby debut off the bench.
“It’s good to see Luke get his chance, he’s been nice and patient and worked really hard for his club over the past couple of weeks,” McKellar said.
“He’s excited and I know his family is heavily invested in his career and I know they’ll be excited and proud of him.
“The Force have some momentum at the moment off the Rebels win and the Waratahs too and they played well against the Reds last week and they deserve their opportunity.
“At the end of the day it comes down to the team that turns up with greatest intent and wants to dominate the collisions and takes their opportunities, that’s who generally wins semifinals.”
Meanwhile, Force coach Tim Sampson has sprung a surprise by handing little-known Jake Strachan a start at fullback for the high stakes clash.
Sampson had been confident that Ireland great Rob Kearney would be fit for Saturday but the veteran’s groin injury still hasn’t healed sufficiently.
Kearney was named to start at No.15 for last week’s clash with the Reds but was a late withdrawal and Jack McGregor started in his place.
McGregor is on the bench for the qualifying final with Sampson instead opting for Queensland product Strachan, 23, who will make his first start of the season.
“Jake’s a very talented player, he has the ability to create something out of nothing,” Sampson said.
“His nickname is ‘Silky’ for a reason.”
Elsewhere, former All Black Richard Kahui is a no-brainer selection at outside centre in place of the suspended Tevita Kuridrani while Sampson has also picked Argentina Test tighthead Santiago Medrano to start ahead of former Wallaby Greg Holmes.
“It was fantastic to win at home and give our fans the opportunity to be a part of the history we created last week,” Sampson said.
“We take momentum and belief that no matter what situation we find ourselves in, we can come away with the win.
The belief has been there since round one, that hasn’t changed.”
BRUMBIES (15-1): Tom Banks, Andy Muirhead, Len Ikitau, Irae Simone, Tom Wright, Noah Lolesio, Nic White, Pete Samu, Rory Scott, Rob Valetini, Cadeyrn Neville, Darcy Swain, Allan Alaalatoa (c), Folau Fainga’a, James Slipper
Reserves: Lachlan Lonergan, Scott Sio, Tom Ross, Nick Frost, Luke Reimer, Ryan Lonergan, Reesjan Pasitoa, Mack Hansen
FORCE (15-1): Jake Strachan, Toni Pulu, Richard Kahui, Kyle Godwin (c), Jordan Olowofela, Domingo Miotti, Tomas Cubelli, Brynard Stander, Kane Koteka, Tim Anstee, Sitaleki Timani, Jeremy Thrush, Santiago Medrano, Feleti Kaitu’u, Tom Robertson
Reserves: Andrew Ready, Angus Wagner, Greg Holmes, Ryan McCauley, Fergus Lee-Warner, Ian Prior, Henry Taefu, Jack McGregor
SUPER RUGBY AOTEAROA, ROUND 10
HURRICANES vs HIGHLANDERS, Friday 5.05pm AEST at Sky Stadium
Hurricanes coach Jason Holland has tweaked his backline to play the Highlanders with two changes to his starting side.
Former All Blacks winger Julian Savea replaces Wes Goosen while Billy Proctor regains the outside centre jersey from Peter Umaga-Jensen.
The Hurricanes have won just one game this season and will finish with the Aotearoa wooden spoon even if they beat the Highlanders.
“We have been really close in a number of games this season and we feel we are not far away,” Holland said.
“There’s no doubt the Highlanders will feel exactly the same and the way the two sides play, it’s going to be a match not short of opportunities given the positive intent we have.”
Meanwhile, the Highlanders have lost winger Ngantungane Punivai and loose forward Marino Mikaele-Tu’u to leg injuries.
Sam Gilbert – who has recovered from his own ACL injury – will start on the right wing.
“He had a small intro to Highlanders rugby last year but he made a big impression on the organisation,” Highlanders coach Tony Brown said of Gilbert.
“I think his natural position is fullback but we just want to get him back on the field.
“He played really well for us on the right wing.”
HURRICANES (15-1): Jordie Barrett, Julian Savea, Billy Proctor, Ngani Laumape, Salesi Rayasi, Ruben Love, Luke Campbell, Devan Flanders, Du’Plessis Kirifi, Reed Prinsep, Scott Scrafton, James Blackwell, Tyrel Lomax, Dane Coles (c), Xavier Numia
Reserves: Asafo Aumua, Fraser Armstrong, Alex Fidow, Isaia Walker-Leawere, Brayden Iose, Cam Roigard, Peter Umaga-Jensen, Pepesana Patafilo
HIGHLANDERS (15-1): Josh Ioane, Sam Gilbert, Patelesio Tomkinson, Scott Gregory, Jona Nareki, Mitch Hunt, Aaron Smith (co-c), Kazuki Himeno, Shannon Frizell, Billy Harmon, Josh Dickson, Bryn Evans, Siate Tokolahi, Ash Dixon (co-c), Ethan de Groot
Reserves: Liam Coltman, Ayden Johnstone, Josh Hohneck, Manaaki Selby-Rickit, Hugh Renton, Kayne Hammington, Michael Collins, James Lentjes
BLUES vs CHIEFS, Saturday 5.05pm AEST at Eden Park