The Brumbies have made a few changes to the side that topped the Australian Super Rugby conference after seven rounds, as they shape up to take on the Melbourne Rebels in the first round of the Super Rugby AU this weekend at GIO Stadium Canberra.
Homegrown talent Mack Hansen will start at fullback for the Brumbies on Saturday, having spent the last two seasons honing his craft in the Brumbies system.
Hansen takes the 15 jumper off injured star Tom Banks, who was ruled out due to a niggling foot complaint he picked up during the COVID shut down.
Brumbies head coach Dan McKellar said the 22-year-old Hansen earned his spot in the side having “worked incredibly hard for a long period now to get a crack”.
“He’s been very good at training now for the best part of the last two years … he understands what’s required now to perform well at this level and he’s ready to go.
“We talk about when we expose our young players that they’re ready to perform, and Mack’s certainly in that category,” McKellar said.
Other changes to the side from their last match – a 40-14 win over the Waratahs some 16 weeks ago – include Wallaby hooker Folau Fainga’a returning to claim number 2 jumper, Darcy Swain returning to the second row for Cadeyrn Neville, Tom Cusack back at openside flanker shifting Will Miller to the bench, and Tom Wright coming back onto the wing.
Brumbies halves pairing Joe Powell and Noah Lolesio will continue furthering their game-beating combination, with McKellar saying the 21-year-old fly-half Lolesio has kept a level head despite the publicity his scintillating form warranted earlier in the year.
“It’s great when any young player comes in and performs at this level; he’s had some learnings as well over the first seven weeks of super rugby, but he knows he’s just getting his career started,” McKellar said.
“He keeps himself grounded, he’s got a work ethic and an attitude where he just wants to get better and better every day.”
Brumbies facing a ‘Wallaby backline’
Come Saturday, the youthful Brumbies backline will face off against all-stars Matt To’omua, Marika Koroibete, Reece Hodge, and captain Dane Haylett-Petty; who between them share plenty of Wallabies caps.
While the Brumbies enter the game as strong favourites, the Rebels finished seven rounds of Super Rugby having played six matches for three wins and three losses, equal second on the Australian ladder, with their game plan built around utilising their strike power out wide and a controlling kicking game.
Brumbies wing Andrew Muirhead earlier this week said the ACT side was confident they could match it with the star-studded outfit.
“We like to think of ourselves as a pretty dynamic backline, so it’ll be a good way to see where we’re at after a break against a red-hot backline that the Rebels have,” he said.
McKellar said the Brumbies focus has been inward while preparing for this weekend’s match.
“We speak a lot here about our back-field defence and our pendulum defence and do a lot of work on that,” he said.
“They’re always unpredictable, I haven’t thought a lot about them to be honest, we just focus on ourselves, and whoever they roll out they’re going to be a strong side, it’s a Wallaby backline really isn’t it.”
A number of law changes have been brought in for Super Rugby AU to speed up the game and promote expansive, attacking rugby.
One of the big changes is the introduction of the 50-22 and 22-50 kicks, which borrow from rugby league’s 40-20, and will force teams to defend differently at the back while creating attacking opportunity.
McKellar said the law variations won’t do much to change the Brumbies’ approach, who, since McKellar took over, have sought to strike a balance between dynamic running rugby and dominating the set pieces.
“It’s hard to predict too much with the new law variations … It’s just about making sure that our pendulum and back-field defence is at the level it needs to be at.”
“Do we like to play attacking rugby and do we like to go to set piece … 100%, will we change that, nah.”
“We’re not a slow team, we’re a team that likes a line-out and a scrum.”
“You’ve got to have balance in your game, set pieces are the fabric of the game. If you’re going to not take that seriously then we lose our DNA to a certain extent,” McKellar said.
For more sport: