The Brumbies have named their side to face the Highlanders at GIO Stadium on Friday, with David Pocock's return a major boost to their XV.
Pocock will return following six weeks on the sidelines. He has recovered from a fractured eye socket sustained during the first Test against England. Having consulted with specialists, he will take his place at openside flanker against the defending Super Rugby champions.
While Pocock’s return is a boost for the side, newly-capped Wallabies lock Rory Arnold has been ruled out of this week’s match after failing to recover from an elbow injury suffered during last week’s win over the Western Force. Blake Enever will take Arnold’s spot in the starting side.
In other changes for the squad, Robbie Coleman returns to the side after three weeks of strong performances for Queanbeyan in the John I Dent Cup. He replaces James Dargaville on the wing, Dargaville has been named on an extended bench.
Ruan Smith will start at tighthead prop with Leslie Leulua’iali’i-Makin named on the extended bench after recovering from injury. Leulua’iali’i-Makin replaces Ben Alexander on the reserves list.
Head coach Stephen Larkham said he believed the Smith and Leulua’iali’i-Makin combination is suited for Friday’s match against a strong Highlanders pack.
Smith and Leulua’iali’i-Makin were the Brumbies tighthead props when the side travelled to Invercargill earlier this year.
On that occasion, both teams were strong at the set-piece and it will be a critical part of the match again this Friday.
Leulua’iali’i-Makin has missed a number of matches through injury following the June break, however he played 80 minutes last week in club rugby and has continued to improve his game this season.
Smith will start alongside Scott Sio and co-captain Stephen Moore in the front row while Enever and Sam Carter are the locks.
Scott Fardy has been named at blindside flanker with Pocock at openside, while Jarrad Butler switches back to number eight.
Tomás Cubelli will start his first Super Rugby finals match at scrum-half next to experienced co-captain Christian Leali'ifano. Matt Toomua and Tevita Kuridrani are the centres. Coleman and Nigel Ah Wong have been named on the wings while Aidan Toua is the full-back.
Josh Mann-Rea, Allan Alaalatoa and Ruan Smith will bolster the front row from the bench while Tom Staniforth and Michael Wells have both been named as reserves for their first finals match. Jordan Smiler has not been named after five weeks on the sidelines with a knee injury suffered during the World 10s tournament held in Mauritius in June.
Larkham has named an extended squad with Joe Powell, Andrew Smith, Lausii Taliauli and James Dargaville all in contention for Friday's match. The reserves list will be trimmed ahead of kick-off.
The last time these two teams met was in round ten in Invercargill. On that occasion the defending champs won 23-10 in wet and windy conditions.
Brumbies: 15 Aidan Toua, 14 Nigel Ah Wong, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Robbie Coleman, 10 Christian Leali'ifano (cc), 9 Tomás Cubelli, 8 Jarrad Butler, 7 David Pocock, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Blake Enever, 3 Ruan Smith, 2 Stephen Moore (cc) 1 Scott Sio
Replacements (one to be omitted): 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 Allan Alaalatoa, 18 Leslie Leulua’iali’i-Makin, 19 Tom Staniforth, 20 Michael Wells, 21 Joe Powell, 22 Andrew Smith, 23 James Dargaville, 24 Lausii Taliauli
Date: Friday, July 22
Venue: GIO Stadium, Canberra
Kick-off: 18:05 local (08:05 GMT)
Referee: Angus Gardner
Assistant Referees: Ben O’Keeffe, Nic Berry
TMO: George Ayoub