Brumbies coach Jake White is hoping a 120kg backrower on debut can spark his side against the Rebels after two straight Super Rugby losses.
Anticipation levels surrounding massive No.8 Fotu Auelua have been high ever since he knocked an opponent out just 30 seconds into a local match during the pre-season, but fans have been forced to wait as the Brumbies went to work on the 28-year-old’s fitness.
“He’s come from Japan. He was obviously off the boil when he got here in terms of his physical preparation – but all credit to him, he’s put his head down and given it a full crack,” said White, whose team remain atop the Australian conference ladder with a two-point margin.
“It’s what everybody’s been waiting for … the energy that he brings.
“But that excitement is something we probably need after two losses in a row.”
The Rebels match looms as a must-win game for the Brumbies, who will depart shortly afterwards for a difficult two-week tour of South Africa, where they’ll face the Bulls in Pretoria and the Lions in Johannesburg.
Auelua’s inclusion is one of six changes from the side that conceded a hefty 27 turnovers in a 20-13 defeat to the Reds last Friday night – one of their worst performances this season.
Skipper Ben Mowen has been pushed to blindside breakaway for an underperforming Peter Kimlin, who’s been relegated to the bench, while Ita Vaea has also missed out on the starting XV after Michael Hooper was recalled at No.7.
The changes have also cost Leon Power a spot in the second-row in favour of Scott Fardy, but White insisted he was resting Power so he’s 100 per cent ready for the South African games.
White has also chosen to move Wallabies prop Ben Alexander to the bench, which gives Ruaidhri Murphy his second run-on start of the season.
Hard-working outside centre Andrew Smith has made way for Tevita Kuridrani, who gets his first run-on start in the No.13 jersey after coming off the bench against the Reds.
White plans to come home with a wet sail against the Rebels, who finished strongly to upset the Blues 34-23 last Thursday night.
“If things go according to plan and we bring our bench on, we can actually end up with our strongest possible team finishing off the game and we haven’t been in a position to do that this season,” he said.
“It’ll be interesting to see whether or not the Rebels expect it firstly, but secondly whether they’ll be able to stop it.”