The selection that proves the Brumbies' days of being a one-trick pony are over

Super Rugby - AU
by Christy Doran

Any doubting that the Brumbies will go into their shells and maul the living daylights out of the Queensland Reds in the Super Rugby AU final was dismissed with the selection of playmaker Noah Lolesio.

The 20-year-old, who made his debut against the Reds way back in January, hasn't played for two months since he went down against the Waratahs with a hamstring injury at the Olympic Stadium.

Since then another youngster, Bayley Kuenzle, has been pulling the strings at fly-half, but the Brumbies' attack hasn't quite fired, at least consistently, without Lolesio.

But the playmaker, who was announced in Dave Rennie's Wallabies squad last Sunday, will sensationally wear the No.10 jersey in the Brumbies' first appearance in a grand final since going down to Rennie's Chiefs back in 2013.

Once considered a one-trick pony who could only score tries through their rolling maul, Lolesio's selection is a signal of intent by the Brumbies to fight fire with fire against a Reds side that has gone from strength to strength in 2020, with Jim McKay's attacking plans coming to fruition under Brad Thorn in his second year back at the franchise.

"His (Lolesio's) ability to play nice and flat, take on any defensive line, any tired or fatigued defenders in front of him he's always going to be looking for that opportunity, he's got very good vision and sees space at times well ahead of others - that's why we've given him the nod," explained coach Dan McKellar.

"He gives us an extra dimension to our attack, good acceleration off the mark and he's a tough little bugger as well, he's prepared to run a hard line and potentially get whacked.

"We've got full confidence in him as we do in BK (Kuenzle) and all our young players. I don't care how old they are. We picked Noah at the start of the year and he did a great job and that confidence and belief he brings is still there."

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Lolesio was the major talking point when looking at the selections of the two sides.

But someone who went slightly under the radar was the return of Joe Powell ahead of World Cup starting halfback Nic White.

McKellar said Powell's return to the No.9 jersey was, in large part, due to the fact that he played alongside Lolesio for the bulk of the year until the youngster's injury.

Yeah, you're spot on, i's his combination," McKellar said.

"Noah and Joe have played a lot of footy together at the Brumbies, at club level and at NRC and you're going into a grand final and I wanted that combination, they've both got a clear understanding of how each other play, they know each other well."

White, who started at No.9 in the Brumbies' last final appearance in 2013 and played for Exeter in the past two finals of the English Premiership and scored a try last year against Saracens, will give the home side plenty of experience when he comes off the bench.


SUPER RUGBY FINAL TEAMS: Bombshell as Brumbies recall playmaker, Reds shift Petaia

HISTORY: The Reds haven't won in Canberra since 2014 but Thorn says travel won't be an excuse 

FROM COOPER TO O'CONNOR: How Thorn turned the Reds into one of the hottest teams in Super Rugby

Elsewhere, the Brumbies have opted for Lachie McCaffrey at blindside flanker, with Wallaby Rob Valetini to come off the bench too.

They'll come up against a Reds side full of confidence but wounded after scraping home against the Rebels in last weekend's bruising qualifying final.

It will be the second time in as many weeks that these two teams will have squared up against one another.

The Reds beat the Brumbies 26-7 in the final round of the regular season in Brisbane, but haven't won in Canberra since 2014.

After enjoying an extra week to prepare for the match, where the Brumbies have focused on short, sharp sessions in the lead up to the final, McKellar said defence was the major work-on against a red-hot Queensland attack.

"I think they've improved their attack, undoubtedly," McKellar said.

"Jim's done a good job up there without a doubt. He's obviously had success in other teams in the past (winning the comp with the Reds in 2011).

"Like we've seen here with ourselves, it takes time when you're changing structures and systems, we've got a lot of  respect for Jim as a coach, as we do Brad and the other coaches up there, they certainly asked a few questions of us up there defensively and we've done a lot of work over that in the last few weeks and now we've got to go out there and execute it.

Brumbies v Queensland Reds at GIO Stadium, Canberra. Kick-off: 7:20pm AEDT

Brumbies (1-15): Scott Sio, Folau Fainga'a, Allan Alaalatoa (c), Murray Douglas, Cadeyrn Neville, Lachie McCaffrey, Will Miller, Pete Samu, Joe Powell, Noah Lolesio, Tom Wright, Irae Simone, Tevita Kuridrani, Andy Murihead, Tom Banks

Reserves: Connal McInerney, James Slipper, Tom Ross, Nick Frost, Rob Valetini, Nic White, Bayley Kuenzle, Solomone Kata

INS: Murray Douglas, Noah Lolesio

OUTS: Darcy Swian, Len Ikitau, Ryan Lonergan

Queensland 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

Reserves: Josh Nasser, Harry Hoopert, Ruan Smith, Tuaina Taii Tualima, Angus Scott-Young, Moses Sorovi, Bryce Hegarty, Jack Hardy

INS: Jack Hardy, Ruan Smith

OUTS: Chris Feauai-Sautia, Jack Straker