TEAM NEWS: Brumbies make three changes for Highlanders clash

Super Rugby
by Emma Greenwood

UPDATE: The Brumbies say they are feeling no pressure to hold up the reputation of Australian rugby despite being the only side to have registered a Super Rugby win so far this season.

After beating the Reds and Rebels, the Brumbies have made a perfect start to the season and are seeking an 11th consecutive home victory when they take on the Highlanders at GIO Stadium in Canberra on Saturday.

But assistant coach Peter Hewat said the team was not interested in looking outside its lane.

"If we can keep winning, it's nice, if we can keep improving our performance, then hopefully the rest will look after itself," he said.

"For us to start worrying about anything else we're probably getting ahead of ourselves."

With the Rebels and Waratahs playing a derby on Friday night, at least one other Aussie team will end round three with a win.

The Brumbies face a challenge to keep their clean sheet, taking on a buoyant Highlanders outfit after the Kiwi side's win against the Jaguares in Argentina last week.

Test prop James Slipper will start for the first time in 2020 in one of three changes to the starting XV for the Brumbies.

Slipper will slot in at loosehead for Scott Sio, who will come off the bench after a head knock last week, while Will Miller gets his first opportunity in the no.7 jersey, replacing Tom Cusack, who will be rested after his head knock in the clash against the Rebels.

In the other change, Darcy Swain returns in the second row after recovering from injury.

The reshuffle also sees the return of crowd favourite Lachlan McCaffrey, local product Tom Ross and dynamic outside back Len Ikitau who have all been named in the replacements for their first appearances this season.

Coach Dan McKellar said he was fortunate to be able to rotate Slipper and Sio in the front row.

"It's something that worked well for us last year and we'll keep assessing it moving forward," McKellar said.

"It also gives local boy Tom Ross a chance for his first match this year, he's been working really hard on his game during the preseason and performed well for the Runners last weekend to earn an opportunity.

Hewat said the team lost nothing in switching 97-Test veteran Slipper in for Sio.

"Nothing changes at all," Hewat said. "Those two compliment each other really well, so nothing changes at all. Slips has been playing well off the bench and he's looking forward to a start this week."

Hewat said former Waratah Miller would bring plenty of energy to the starting side as he slots in for Cusack.

"He's been really good off the bench the last two weeks. (He'll bring) a lot of energy,  he's good over the ball and is a nice attacking player, so he's going to be a good link between our backs and forwards on Saturday night," Hewat said.

"We're really looking forward to seeing him run around and we're really lucky to have Locky McCaffery running around as well.

"Locky just gives us that bit of experience off the bench to close out games. Locky was always probably going to come in this week anyway, so it's just worked out nicely."

With the worst of the bushfire crisis over and the heat that marred their round one game against the Reds having dissipated, the Brumbies are hoping for a crowd of over 10,000 this week.

Hewat, who regularly played in front of more than 20,000 spectators during his own career for the Waratahs, was confident fans would return to the game in Australia. 

"We're taking a bit of a hit at the moment but as you can see through our development systems, our 18s, our 20s, we're starting to get a bit of momentum through our young guys and that will hopefully transform into some good performances by our Super Rugby guys and then the Wallabies and that will hopefully turn that momentum around," he said.

"It's just being patient and hoping that will come. Half the battle is how it's perceived.

"We've got to constantly get out there with our community and reconnect and try and get people to our games and hopefully it will follow around Australia."

The Brumbies are chasing an 11th consecutive home win when they take on the Highlanders, a streak that would equal the second-longest in club history.

The Brumbies take on the Highlanders at Canberra's GIO Stadium in the second leg of a double-header following the Super W clash between the Brumbies women and RugbyWA, kicking off at 4:35pm AEDT. Super Rugby kicks off at 7:15pm AEDT, with the match LIVE on Fox Sports, Kayo and via RUGBY.com.au RADIO.

TEAM

Brumbies to play Highlanders

1. James Slipper

2. Folau Fainga'a

3. Allan Alaalatoa (c)

4. Darcy Swain

5. Murray Douglas

6. Rob Valetini

7. Will Miller

8. Pete Samu

9. Joe Powell

10. Noah Lolesio

11. Tom Wright

12. Irae Simone

13. Tevita Kuridrani

14. Solomone Kata

15. Tom Banks

Reserves

16. Connal McInerney

17. Scott Sio

18. Tom Ross

19. Cadeyrn Neville

20. Lachlan McCaffrey

21. Ryan Lonergan

22. Len Ikitau

23. Andy Muirhead