The Brumbies have sprung a major surprise by recalling star No.10 Noah Lolesio for Saturday’s Super Rugby final against the Queensland Reds in Canberra despite the 20-year-old not playing any rugby for two months.
Coach Dan McKellar has shown a mountain of faith in Lolesio, who was last week named in his first Wallabies squad, as well as halfback Joe Powell who gets the nod over incumbent Australian No.9 Nic White.
Bayley Kuenzle has done a fine job for the Brumbies at five-eighth in Lolesio’s absence but has been squeezed to a 5-3 bench and no doubt the Reds will be targeting the young playmaker.
Lolesio pulled his hamstring in the Brumbies' one-point win over the Waratahs on July 18 and has been working up to full fitness in recent weeks.
“As a team we're really happy for Noah,” McKellar said. “He was playing good footy before his setback. He's done a lot of work to get himself right and trained very well over the last two weeks. We've got full confidence and belief in his ability.”
A Test trio of Scott Sio, Folau Fainga’a and captain Allan Alaalatoa will line up in the front row, while Murray Douglas comes in for Darcy Swain in the second row.
Tevita Kuridrani, left out of Dave Rennie’s 46-man squad, has been named at No.13 but there was no room for Wallabies bolter Len Ikitau, who has been squeezed out of the matchday 23.
Meanwhile, the Reds have reshuffled their back line following a groin injury to winger Chris Feauai-Sautia.
Jordan Petaia, who took his place at No.13 against the Rebels in a 25-13 qualifying final victory, will shift to the wing, with Hunter Paisami coming into the starters at outside-centre.
The Reds thumped the Brumbies 26-7 in the final round match of the season but haven’t tasted victory in the nation’s capital since 2014.
“Grand final week … this is what it’s all about,” said Reds coach Brad Thorn. “We’re embracing the challenge ahead against a worthy opponent, whom we respect.”
Brumbies (1-15): Scott Sio, Folau Fainga'a, Allan Alaalatoa, Murray Douglas, Cadeyrn Neville, Lachlan McCaffrey, Will Miller, Pete Samu, Joe Powell, Noah Lolesio, Tom Wright, Irae Simone, Tevita Kuridrani, Andy Muirhead, Tom Banks.
Bench: Connal McInerney, James Slipper, Tom Ross, Nick Frost, Rob Valetini, Nic White, Bayley Kuenzle, Solomone Kata.
Reds (1-15): JP Smith, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Taniela Tupou, Angus Blyth, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Liam Wright, Fraser McReight, Harry Wilson, Tate McDermott, James O’Connor, Filipo Daugunu, Hamish Stewart, Hunter Paisami, Jordan Petaia, Jock Campbell.
Bench: Josh Nasser, Harry Hoopert, Ruan Smith, Tuaina Taii Tualima, Angus Scott-Young, Moses Sorovi, Bryce Hegarty, Jack Hardy.
Sports news, results and expert commentary delivered straight to your inbox each weekday. Sign up here.