The Brumbies have welcomed back experienced hooker Josh Mann-Rea for their daunting Super Rugby assignment against the Hurricanes in Napier on Friday.
Mann-Rea, 36, has recovered earlier than expected from a knee injury after missing four matches and relegates Robbie Abel to the bench.
“Bongo (Mann-Rea) is a marquee player for us,” coach Stephen Larkham said.
“He’s a stand-out player at set-piece time but also around the field and I think ahead of schedule with his injury, it’s timely to bring him back in.”
While Larkham was full of praise for Abel’s performances, he also said deficiencies at the line-out had cost the Brumbies in their shock two-points loss to the Melbourne Rebels last week.
Winger James Dargaville returns to the starting side in place of Tom Banks, continuing Larkham’s commitment to rotation.
“We’re making sure we’re keeping the majority of the squad motivated and fresh,” he said.
The Hurricanes lead the competition in key attacking statistics and have the two most prolific try scorers in Ngani Laumape and Vince Aso in their side.
But Larkham isn’t planning on abandoning the Brumbies’ recent focus on attack, vowing to give his players licence to beat the Hurricanes at their own game.
“You’ve got to be very clever strategically against New Zealand sides with the opportunities you give them from turnover and counterattack, but at the same time you’ve got to score points against them,” Larkham said.
“I don’t think it’s a case of just trying to hold them out. It’s a matter for us to try and find some space on the field in attack as well.”
The Brumbies’ attacking firepower is driven by winger Henry Speight, outside centre Tevita Kuridrani and fullback Aidan Toua.
“If there’s any sniff of momentum or a line-break or a bit of space on the field then we’re encouraging them to use their skills rather than put ball to boot,” Larkham said.
Lolo Fakaosilea has been named on the bench along with winger Nigel Ah Wong while hooker Saia Fainga’a, lock Tom Staniforth and back-rower Tom Cusack drop out of the squad.
Aidan Toua, Henry Speight, Tevita Kuridrani, Andrew Smith, James Dargaville, Wharenui Hawera, Joel Powell, Jarrad Butler, Chris Alcock, Scott Fardy, Sam Carter (capt), Rory Arnold, Allan Alaalatoa, Josh Mann-Rea, Scott Sio. Replacements: Robbie Abel, Nic Mayhew, Ben Alexander, Blake Enever, Lolo Fakaosilea, De Wet Roos, Jordan Jackson-Hope, Nigel Ah Wong.