Changes, what changes? McKellar cool on 16 changes as Nic White returns

Super Rugby - AU
by Christy Doran

Five years after his last Super Rugby match, Wallabies halfback Nic White will make his return for the Brumbies after being selected on the bench to face the Waratahs in their high-stakes clash on Saturday in the nation's capital.

White was one of 16 team changes to Dan McKellar's side from the one that suffered their maiden loss of the season to the Rebels a fortnight ago.

Usually a side with as many changes as the one selected this weekend would indicate either the coach opted to rest his entire team before a final or that they were in crisis mode.

Not so for McKellar though, who was at his playful best at his team announcement on Thursday as he attempted to heap pressure on the Waratahs.

It was a case of "changes, what changes?" for McKellar.

"No, I've never made 16 changes but I don't look at it as 16 changes," he said.

"I've picked a team to beat the Waratahs this week.

"Changing combinations, that's how externally it might be viewed, but we train together every day of the week. These boys know each other well and it's an exciting team and a good opportunity for a number of boys."

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Headlining the mass changes though is the return of 30-year-old White, who arrived back in Australia last month after a five-year stint abroad at Montpellier in France and, more recently, with English powerhouse club Exeter.

McKellar said the World Cup Wallaby brought a competitive edge that would help drive the Brumbies forward.

"He's just a competitor," McKellar said.

"I had the pleasure of working with Whitey for a couple of years before he left and he competes hard, he demands incredibly high standards of himself and others around him and, to be honest, he's like having another coach on the field which is an incredible benefit for us.

"I can already see our young 9s and 10s, our team in general, is just learning from his experiences and knowledge.

"I just love the fact that he competes hard, wants to win everything - it doesn't matter what it is - and drives standards and accountability within the group, and that might rattle a few people every now and then but it's for the betterment of the group." 

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White's returns leaves the Brumbies with an embarrassment of riches at halfback.

McKellar said that regular No.9 Joe Powell was being rested for the match while Issak Fines, who scored the matchwinning try against the Waratahs by slicing past Lachie Swinton in the 77th minute at the Olympic Stadium, once again missed out with Junior Wallabies halfback Ryan Lonergan given the starting role.

"We didn't expect to have him (White) to be honest," McKellar said.

"We thought he'd be playing against the Irish and then the Rugby Championship, so he's landed in our laps. We've got a responsibility for the players who have been here since November last year and Whitey's a part of our group now and he's got Test footy ahead of him, and he's trained hard and come back in incredible shape and is ready to play."

In an indication that McKellar wants to overrun the Waratahs in the second half, the Brumbies coach has opted for six forwards on his bench.

"It's forward heavy," McKellar said.

"There's some guys there that have demanded to be there to be honest through their performances, and it says a little bit about how we want to play the game."

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McKellar confirmed that Test hooker Folau Fainga'a could have played if needed but opted to rest the tryscoring machine.

Fellow Wallaby Tevita Kuridrani has also been rested, but McKellar said that Solomone Kata would pose a threat in the midfield after shifting in one position from the wing.

"Tev's played a lot of rugby. If he goes down, with one or two weeks to go who is our next option?" McKellar said.

"Tev's a big out but I'll tell you who's a massive in is Solomone Kata and (I'm) really excited to see him at 13, a step closer into the footy and he'll get more ball in his hands and he's the sort of bloke that if you're defending him you're hoping he passes it, so he'll create some havoc."

Meanwhile, McKellar said that young fly-half Noah Lolesio was progressing well after his hamstring injury suffered against the Waratahs back in July.

"He's going along nicely. We're pushing to have him at the back end of the season."

BRUMBIES (1-15): James Slipper, Connal McInerney, Allan Alaalatoa (c),  Murray Douglas,  Cadeyrn Neville, Lachlan McCaffrey, Will Miller, Pete Samu, Ryan Lonergan, Bayley Kuenzle, Tom Wright, Irae Simone, Solomone Kata, Andy Murihead, Tom Banks, 

Reserves: Lachlan Lonergan, Scott Sio, Tom Ross, Darcy Swain, Rob Valetini, Tom Cusack, Nic White, Len Ikitau

WARATAHS (1-15): Tom Robertson, Tom Horton, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Ned Hanigan,  Rob Simmons (c), Lachie Swinton, MIchael Hooper, Jack Dempsey,  Jake Gordon,  Will Harrison, Alex Newsome, Karmichael Hunt, Joey Walton, James Ramm,Jack Maddocks

Reserves: Robbie Abel, Angus Bell, Te Tera Faulkner, Tom Staniforth, Hugh Sinclair, Mitch Short, Ben Donaldson, Lalakai Foketi

The Waratahs take on the Brumbies at GIO Stadium on Saturday August 22, kicking off at 7:15pm AEST, LIVE on Foxtel, Foxtel Now and Kayo Sports. Buy tickets here. Buy a Kayo subscription here.