Brumbies unleash boom rookie on Highlanders

Highly rated youngster Billy Pollard is poised to make his Super Rugby debut for the Brumbies in their final game of the trans-Tasman season against the Highlanders.

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Harry Wilson scores as the Reds get off the perfect start

SUPER RUGBY TRANS-TASMAN, ROUND FIVE TEAMS

HURRICANES vs REDS, Friday 5.05pm AEST in Wellington

The Reds will be without backline stars James O’Connor and Suliasi Vunivalu for their final game of the Super Rugby trans-Tasman season against the Hurricanes.

Five-eighth O’Connor is still battling a neck injury that also kept him out last week while winger Vunivalu is still tending to a hamstring issue suffered in the loss to the Blues.

The good news is that Bryce Hegarty has overcome a minor hamstring injury that sidelined him in round four and will start at No.10 in place of Hamish Stewart.

Josh Flook starts in place of Vunivalu on the right wing while Angus Blyth gets the nod at lock ahead of Ryan Smith.

The 1-3 Reds cannot qualify for the final.

“We’re looking forward to getting back over to Wellington – we haven’t been there since 2018,” Reds coach Brad Thorn said.

“The Hurricanes are playing for a finals spot and we’re expecting a tough battle against them.

“We want to finish the season well and put in a good performance for our Queensland fans back home.”

Meanwhile, Ngani Laumape will play what is likely to be his final game for the Hurricanes before taking up a lucrative contract with Stade Francais.

The blockbusting centre played 15 Tests for the All Blacks but wasn’t given the financial incentive to stay in New Zealand.

“It wasn’t hard when I was offered a contract that was asking me to take less income,” Laumape said.

“Once that came into perspective I had to make the best decision for me and my family and my kids.”

Asafo Aumua returns from concussion to start at hooker ahead of Dane Coles while Cam Roigard gets the nod at halfback in place of Luke Campbell.

HURRICANES (15-1): Jordie Barrett, Julian Savea, Billy Proctor, Ngani Laumape, Wes Goosen, Ruben Love, Cam Roigard, Ardie Savea (c), Du’Plessis Kirifi, Reed Prinsep, Scott Scrafton, James Blackwell, Tyrel Lomax, Asafo Aumua, Xavier Numia

Reserves: Dane Coles, Pouri Rakete-Stones, Alex Fidow, Liam Mitchell, Devan Flanders, Luke Campbell, Peter Umaga-Jensen, Salesi Rayasi

REDS (15-1): Mac Grealy, Josh Flook, Hunter Paisami, Isaac Henry, Filipo Daugunu, Bryce Hegarty, Tate McDermott, Harry Wilson, Liam Wright (c), Angus Scott-Young, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Angus Blyth, Taniela Tupou, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Feao Fotuaika

Reserves: Richie Asiata, Harry Hoopert, Zane Nonggorr, Ryan Smith, Fraser McReight, Kalani Thomas, Hudson Creighton, Moses Sorovi

Referee: James Doleman (NZ)

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Len Ikitau scores for the Brumbies

BRUMBIES vs HIGHLANDERS, Friday 7.45pm AEST in Canberra

Bayley Kuenzle will start at five-eighth for the Brumbies after Wallabies playmaker Noah Lolesio was ruled out with a minor injury sustained in the win over the Hurricanes.

Test players Nic White, Irae Simone and Tom Wright are also promoted to the starting lineup after coming off the bench last weekend while there is excitement over the likely Super Rugby debut of hooker Billy Pollard, who is named on the bench.

“We were really happy with the response from the team last weekend but we also have an expectation to finish the season on a positive note on Friday night,” Brumbies coach Dan McKellar said.

“There’s no doubt Billy is an exceptional talent and he’s worked hard on the training paddock, and has now had valuable game time in the John I Dent Cup and we’re looking forward to seeing him take the next step in his career against the Highlanders.

“The side really got a lift out of the home crowd at GIO Stadium last Saturday and we can’t wait to play in front of our supporters and our families for the last time in 2021.”

Meanwhile, the Highlanders will welcome back outstanding halfback Aaron Smith as they chase a spot in the trans-Tasman final.

Co-captain Smith missed the win over the Waratahs due to All Blacks rest protocols and returns for Kayne Hammington.

The only other change to the starting lineup is Hugh Renton in at blindside for James Lentjes.

The second-placed Highlanders are jostling with the first-placed Blues and third-placed Crusaders for a berth in the June 19 final, with bonus points and points differential crucial.

“The media and fans are all probably talking about wanting to see a Blues-Crusaders final, but I’m sure the Rebels aren’t looking to roll over, and I’m sure the Force aren’t looking to roll over on the Blues,” Smith said.

“For me, I’d just love to get a win in Canberra, it’s very hard to play there.

“We’re just trying to control our fate, how we play, how we prepare.”

BRUMBIES (15-1): Tom Banks, Tom Wright, Len Ikitau, Irae Simone, Mack Hansen, Bayley Kuenzle, Nic White, Henry Stowers, Rory Scott, Rob Valetini, Nick Frost, Darcy Swain, Allan Alaalatoa (c), Lachlan Lonergan, Scott Sio

Reserves: Billy Pollard, Harry Lloyd, Tom Ross, Tom Hooper, Luke Reimer, Ryan Lonergan, Reesjan Pasitoa, Solomone Kata

HIGHLANDERS (15-1): Josh Ioane, Patelesio Tomkinson, Michael Collins, Scott Gregory, Jona Nareki, Mitch Hunt, Aaron Smith (co-c), Kazuki Himeno, Billy Harmon, Hugh Renton, Pari Pari Parkinson, Bryn Evans, Siate Tokolahi, Ash Dixon (co-c), Ethan de Groot

Reserves: Liam Coltman, Ayden Johnstone, Josh Hohneck, Josh Dickson, James Lentjes, Kayne Hammington, Sam Gilbert, Teariki Ben-Nicholas

Referee: Mike Fraser (NZ)

Stacey Ili scores for the Rebels

REBELS vs CRUSADERS, Saturday 2.35pm AEST in Sydney

REBELS (TBC)

CRUSADERS (TBC)

Referee: Nic Berry (AUS)

Toni Pulu scores for the Western Force

BLUES vs FORCE, Saturday 5.05pm AEST in Auckland

BLUES (TBC)

FORCE (TBC)

Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (NZ)

WARATAHS vs CHIEFS, Saturday 7.45pm AEST in Sydney

WARATAHS (TBC)

CHIEFS (TBC)

Referee: Jordan Way (AUS)

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