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Team Preview: Brumbies

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allblacks.com     09 Feb 2018     Getty Images

Home: GIO Stadium, Canberra
Last Season: Fourth

Squad:
Robbie Abel, Allan Ala'altoa, Ben Alexander, Richie Arnold, Rory Arnold, Tom Banks, Sam Carter, Tom Cusack, James Dargaville, Blake Enever, Mees Erasmus, Folau Fainga'a Lolo Fakaosilea, Kyle Godwin, Mack Hansen, Wharenui Hawera, Ben Hyne, Jordan Jackson-Hope, Tevita Kuridrani, Christian Leali'ifano, Leslie Leulua'iali'i-Makin, Ryan Lonergan, Matt Lucas, Josh Mann-Rea, Nic Mayhew, Lachlan McCaffrey, Andy Muirhead, Isi Naisarani, Chance Peni-Ataera, David Pocock, Joe Rowell, Scott Sio, Fa'alelei Sione, Andrew Smith, Henry Speight, Darcy Swain, Lausi'i Taliauli, Rob Valentini, James Verity-Amm.

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Game breaker:
In more ways than one five-eighths Christian Leali'ifano is in the game-breaking class for the Brumbies. Seemingly lost to the club when diagnosed with leukaemia in 2016 he returned to the playing field for the latter stages of the 2017 Super Rugby campaign, appearing against the Hurricanes in the quarterfinal. He spent time during the northern hemisphere winter as a loan player for Ulster. A 118-game veteran who has scored 796 points for the club, his inspiration will be immeasurable while the control he brings, whether at first or second five-eighths will be balanced by the contribution he can make in the goal-kicking department.

Key signing:
Richie Arnold will join his twin brother Rory (43 games) in the Brumbies side for the first time. The pair are among the biggest players in Australia and while Rory has gone on to be a key locking performer for Australia, Richie has struggled for the same opportunities suffering frustrating injuries during his first season with the Western Force in 2016 but finally appearing in seven games for the side last year. What makes his signing important for the Brumbies is the depth and competition they now have in their middle row where fellow internationals Sam Carter with 93 Super Rugby appearances and Blake Enever (32 games) and Australia Under-20 play Darcy Swain (uncapped) bolster the side's resources.

Returning veteran: 

Not much doubt exists that flanker David Pocock's return will be the most anticipated feature of the Brumbies side, although injury has meant the impact will be delayed until the middle rounds of the competition. But the sheer intensity of his play, backed by his experience, offers Australia's best-performed side from last year the hope that it can extend its success beyond merely qualifying for the play-offs.

The Scoop:

After the Conference topping effort of 2017, the Brumbies have undergone a renewal with 14 players missing from last season's squad. Flanker Scott Fardy was the most notable loss but his absence should be more than covered once Pocock returns. A more worrying concern may be the loss of Argentine international halfback Tomas Cubelli and the Fainga'a brothers, Anthony and Saia, both of them playing overseas. Joe Powell stepped into the breach when Cubelli was injured last year and has now played 26 games while also securing a Wallabies call-up. He will be in a contest with former Waratahs halfback Matt Lucas who has moved south. Also available is 19-year-old Ryan Lonergan, a player who has been part of the Brumbies' development system and who made his Super Rugby debut last year. Clearing good ball for a quality backline will be vital for Brumbies' hopes.