ACT Brumbies coach Laurie Fisher has made five selection changes and one positional change to his starting team for Saturday morning’s game against the Pretoria Bulls.
RugbyHeaven Aus reports that eighteen-year-old Afusipa Taumoepeau will make his Super 14 debut, replacing Francis Fainifo on the wing, while Josh Holmes switches with Patrick Phibbs as starting scrumhalf.
In the forwards, Mitchell Chapman returns to the run-on team at blindsideflanker, Guy Shepherdson will start at prop while John Ulugia is hooker.
In the back-row, Stephen Hoiles shifts back to his preferred No8, making room for Chapman at No6.
On the bench Ben Alexander returns to the squad, leaving Matt Toomua and Salesi Ma’afu as the two players on tour to sit the match out.
Fisher insists the selection changes are based on a mix of form and personnel the coaching staff believed were best suited to tackle the Bulls.
“I always envisaged changes for this game because the Bulls are a very different side to the [Cape Town] Stormers,” the coach said yesterday.
“With the back row, we need to get our lineout on song and if we can get pressure on them in the air, we can save ourselves a lot of defensive work.
“That’s why we’ve opted for the extra lock instead of the extra prop as well, just to give ourselves the optimum chance to dominate as best we can in the lineout.
“Up front, every kilo helps against a team like the Bulls so Lugey and Sheppy are well suited together there.”
The coaching staff were confident yesterday a diarrhoea and gastric bug which sidelined three players earlier in the week would not force late changes to the team.
Alexander was a late withdrawal from last weekend’s round 12 game against the Stormers after becoming the first team member struck down by the illness.
He is now 100 per cent healthy and trained both yesterday and on Monday.
Captain Stirling Mortlock, who caught the bug on Sunday, missed his second consecutive training session yesterday but was confident of being fit for the Bulls game.
Adam Ashley-Cooper trained for part of yesterday’s session, while lock Alister Campbell and prop Guy Shepherdson, who complained of upset stomachs during the week, are fine and will play on Saturday morning.
Ashley-Cooper spent the first two days this week confined to his hotel room but wanted to take part in at least some of yesterday’s sessions.
“I just needed to get out and do some exercise,” he said.”It’s been a pretty slow couple of days locked up in my room, not eating, not seeing any of the boys, just being quarantined basically but I’m on the improve and will be right come Friday.
“One player enjoying more luck than his ill teammates is debutant Taumoepeau.
The 18-year-old, who is on a Brumbies Academy contract, got the shock of his life yesterday when Fisher told him he would make his debut against the Bulls.
Taumoepeau only made the Brumbies touring squad when Sanualio Afeaki was ruled out days before leaving Canberra with passportissues.
The deeply religious Taumoepeau had expected “to just be doing fitness” throughout the African safari and thought Fisher was joking when he told him of his selection.
“I just thank God every time I get to play rugby and to make my Super14 debut as an 18-year-old, God has helped me along the way and this is just amazing,” he said.”I sat down earlier this year and wrote out some goals and my goal regarding my debut was to do it as a 20-year-old.”
Taumoepeau spent time practicing under the high ball at training yesterday in anticipation of a bombardment from the Bulls.”I kept thinking as I was jumping up that Bryan Habana would be charging at me on game night when I go up so it was a bit easier with no one there at training,” he said.
15. Mark Gerrard, 14. Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13. Stirling Mortlock, 12. Tyrone Smith, 11. Afusipa Taumoepeau, 10. Christian Lealiifano, 9. Josh Holmes, 8. Stephen Hoiles, 7. George Smith, 6. Mitchell Chapman, 5. Mark Chisholm, 4. Alister Campbell, 3. Guy Shepherdson, 2. John Ulugia, 1. Nic Henderson.
Reserves: 16. Saia Faingaa, 17. Ben Alexander, 18. Peter Kimlin, 19. Adam Wallace-Harrison, 20. Julian Salvi, 21. Patrick Phibbs, 22. Matt Toomua.