Code-hopper Karmichael Hunt will face a baptism of fire in his Super Rugby debut at flyhalf for the Queensland Reds on Friday night as two of rugby’s most unforgiving tacklers line him up in their sights.
Hunt has been given the nod at No.10 ahead of the undercooked James O’Connor, and the Brumbies will look to disrupt the Reds’ structure by exploiting the former NRL and AFL player’s inexperience.
While the entire Brumbies unit will look to add pressure, the job will come down to two men in particular: Matt Toomua and David Pocock.
Hitman Toomua has made a name for himself over the past two seasons for missiling himself into the rib-cage of his opposite No.10.
And as per usual, Brumbies head coach Stephen Larkham has given him an open licence to shoot up and out at Hunt.
“(Toomua) picks and chooses when he makes those decisions to go up and put a bit of pressure on the opposition 10. It’s certainly in his game,” Larkham said.
“I’m sure that will be in the back of his mind.”
Should Hunt look to get on Toomua’s inside, he’ll have world class openside flanker – and former Churchie schoolmate – Pocock bearing down on him and looking to force a turnover.
“That’s the role of a No.7 – particularly off scrum and off the back of lineouts – putting pressure on the playmakers,” Larkham said.
While it shapes as an uphill battle for Hunt, it’s far from a lost cause.
Not only did he impress at No.10 last week in the trial against the Crusaders, but he’s been receiving daily advice from injured Reds and Wallabies playmaker Quade Cooper.
“I’ve been just picking his brain, especially the shape and where the 10 needs to get to on the field,” Hunt said.
Hunt won’t be the only debutant with a rugby league background running out onto Canberra Stadium.
The Brumbies will boast the equal tallest player in Super Rugby history after 24-year-old lock Rory Arnold was named as a surprise inclusion.
Measuring in at 208cm – and with just three years experience in rugby union – the Wagga-born behemoth will share the record with South African Andries Bekker.
The Reds have made a few unexpected selection decisions of their own, however, and Larkham admits they’ve taken him by “surprise”.
Former All Blacks backrower and big name recruit Adam Thomson (shoulder) has been left off the team sheet after only just arriving in Brisbane from Japan a week ago, while O’Connor failed to overcome two bouts of illness in time to prepare for the match.
Brumbies prop Ben Alexander will be playing his 100th Super Rugby match, while fellow Wallabies front rower Stephen Moore will make his long awaited return from a knee injury off the Brumbies’ bench.
Robbie Coleman, Henry Speight, Tevita Kuridrani, Christian Lealiifano, Joe Tomane, Matt Toomua, Nic White, Jarrad Butler, David Pocock (c), Scott Fardy, Sam Carter, Rory Arnold, Ben Alexander, Josh Mann-Rea, Scott Sio. Res: Stephen Moore, JP Smith, Ruan Smith, Jordan Smiler, Ita Vaea, Michael Dowsett, James Dargaville, Lausii Taliauli.
Jamie-Jerry Taulagi, Chris Kuridrani, Chris Feauai-Sautia, Samu Kerevi, Lachie Turner, Karmichael Hunt, Will Genia, Jake Schatz, Liam Gill, Curtis Browning, Marco Kotze, James Horwill, Sam Talakai, Saia Fainga’a, James Slipper (c). Res: James Hanson, Ben Daley, Sef Faagase, Ed O’Donoghue, Adam Korczyk, Nick Frisby, Duncan Paia’aua, Campbell Magnay.