Brumbies and Chiefs vie for position
March 25, 2010
Sione Lauaki has been in trouble on and off the field this season © Getty Images
Off-field issues fall under the spotlight when the Brumbies host the Chiefs in our Round 7 Super 14 Game of the Week at Canberra Stadium on Friday night.
Sione Lauaki has been named to play at No.8 for the Chiefs just days after pleading guilty to assault charges over an incident in a Hamilton bar, with Colin Bourke dropping out of the squad. Lauaki is playing on bail and is due back in court on May 6.
In contrast, one of the brightest stories of the season will take place as Julian Huxley makes his return for the Brumbies two years after being forced out of the game to receive treatment on a brain tumour.
Drama aside, the match is shaping up to a be a season-defining one for both these teams. Sitting in fifth and sixth place on the ladder, both face the dreaded over-rated tag after mixed starts to the season. Whoever wins here could stake a claim as genuine contenders, while the loser could be relegated to mid-table obscurity.
The Brumbies will be a new look outfit by virtue of the loss through injury of talismanic flanker George Smith, who previously played almost five years of consecutive games for the the hosts. Eighteen-year-old Michael Hooper has been tasked with occupying Smith's unfillable boots at openside in his debut.
Matt Giteau has shifted out to No.12 in place of Christian Lealiifano, who joins Smith on the treatment table, while Matt Toomua slots in at flyhalf. Stirling Mortlock has recovered to resume at outside centre, in a fresh looking back line being tipped to generate more penetration.
Huxley will play off the bench ahead of schedule after impressing coach Andy Friend so much in two games for the Brumby Runners feeder side that this home game was deemed the fitting stage for his triumphant moment.
A second teenage backrower in Colby Faingaa, younger brother of the famed twins Anthony and Saia, is in line for a debut off the bench, with Guy Shepherdson also being named among the replacements.
"For those out at Canberra Stadium on Friday night, they'll witness a great spectacle in more ways than one. You'll get to see Hux's return after a courageous fight back while the Chiefs are one of the most attacking sides in the competition," Friend said.
"They will attack you from anywhere on the park. We got a taste of what to expect against the Blues last weekend and we need to lift that intensity again and realise that if we turn off for five or 10 minutes we will get punished."
The Chiefs come off the bye desperate for a return to form, having wasted three opening away wins with two home losses this month. They've had a penchant for the tight game this campaign, with four of their five encounters ending with a margin of seven points or less. They'll be reviewing footage of the Blues 39-34 triumph over the Brumbies last week, when their compatriots found a way through the Brumbies' stern defence in a second-half blitz.
Along with Lauaki's inclusion, Ben Afeaki starts at tighthead prop ahead of Nathan White while Culum Retallick returns to the second row to partner Craig Clarke. Jackson Willison replaces Callum Bruce at inside centre. On the bench, All Black hooker Hika Elliot has recovered sufficienty from a hamstring strain to take some part while fullback Tim Nanai-Williams also returns to the reserves. Chiefs coach Ian Foster said the bye had come at a timely moment after his side has fallen by the wayside.
"We've enjoyed the break. We've been given plenty of time to hone up on some areas of our game that we want to grow in. We are now looking forward to the next phase of this championship," Foster said. "We are aware the Brumbies have been playing well and they enjoyed a good start to their season. They also have a good record at Canberra Stadium. However, that makes this game that much more exciting and challenging for us."
Brumbies: Adam Ashley-Cooper; Pat McCabe, Stirling Mortlock, Matt Giteau, Francis Fainifo; Matt Toomua, Josh Valentine; Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore, Salesi Ma'afu, Ben Hand, Mitchell Chapman, Rocky Elsom, Michael Hooper, Stephen Hoiles (capt)
Replacements: Huia Edmonds, Guy Shepherdson, Mark Chisholm, Colby Faingaa, Patrick Phibbs, Tyrone Smith, Julian Huxley
Chiefs: Mils Muliaina (capt); Lelia Masaga, Richard Kahui, Jackson Willison, Sitiveni Sivivatu; Stephen Donald, Brendon Leonard; Sona Taumalolo, Aled de Malmanche, Ben Afeaki, Craig Clarke, Culum Retallick, Liam Messam, Tanerau Latimer, Sione Lauaki
Replacements: Hika Elliot, Nathan White, Jarrad Hoeata, Luke Braid, Junior Poluleuligaga, Mike Delany, Tim Nanai-Williams