Ita Vaea has been ruled out of the Brumbies’ trip to Perth, but is expected to travel with the team to South Africa. Photo: Graham Tidy Brumbies back-rower Jarrad Butler is set to be injected into the starting team to play the Western Force. Photo: Graham Tidy
The ACT Brumbies remain hopeful powerhouse forward Ita Vaea will be able to link up with the team in South Africa after having surgery on a dislocated finger, which has ruled him out of the clash against the Western Force on Friday night.
But Vaea’s absence has opened the door for a one-game rookie to make his comeback almost two years after his debut Brumbies match.
Lock Tom Staniforth is set to be included on the Brumbies’ bench to play the Force with Jarrad Butler expected to move into the No. 8 jersey following Vaea’s injury and Rory Arnold to be recalled to the second row.
Canberra junior Staniforth hasn’t played a Super Rugby match since being plucked out of his job as a part-time pub glassy in April, 2014 to play against the Queensland Reds.
The 21-year-old has toiled away at training and will be rewarded 700 days after bursting on to the scene as a teenager.
The Brumbies flew to Perth on Wednesday night aiming to continue their perfect start to the Super Rugby campaign after beating the Wellington Hurricanes and NSW Waratahs in the opening two rounds.
Vaea and Blake Enever are the only injury concerns in the squad, with Robbie Coleman also flying to Perth and James Dargaville recovering from a knee problem.
Vaea will have more tests later this week before a decision is made on whether he will be fit in time to play the Cape Town Stormers or Free State Cheetahs.
The 27-year-old was back at training on Wednesday but restricted to fitness duties as he aims to rejoin the squad for part of its three-week tour.
The Force threw a curve ball at the Brumbies before kick-off, rotating out some of their key players and injecting Wallabies workhorse Ben McCalman to the starting side for the first time this season.
McCalman is set to match up on highly-rated forward Butler, who is on Wallabies coach Michael Cheika’s radar for future selection, while Jordan Smiler can also inject himself in the back row.
“The Force have certainly tweaked a few things and they’ve got some things up their sleeve,” said Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham.
“We’re not putting too much emphasis on them. It’s not that we’re underestimating them. It’s just the fact we’ve got a lot to work on. Our focus is what we need to do to improve from last weekend.”
The Force drifted dramatically in betting markets on Wednesday afternoon when speculation swirled that they were expected to rest key players from the match.
Coach Michael Foley said earlier this week, “we don’t think anybody will rate us a chance but that’s OK” when asked about the contest against the Brumbies.
Foley has shifted scrumhalf Alby Mathewson to the bench with former Brumby Ian Prior getting the No. 9 jersey, while hooker Nathan Charles and lock Steve Mafi have been dropped to the bench.
But the Brumbies are refusing to be lulled into a false sense of security, adamant they have plenty of room for improvement despite scoring 11 tries in two games and sitting at the top of the table.
“We’re still trying to find our shape in attack a bit better and there are lots of little attention to detail thing that are so important in our game and they haven’t been quite where they needed to be,” Larkham said.
“The game against the Waratahs was tough and we found a way to win, we kept our focus and managed to defend really well. You’ll always make mistakes, but it’s the way you recover or move on.”
SUPER RUGBY ROUND THREE
Friday: ACT Brumbies v Western Force at nib Stadium, Perth, 10.05pm (AEDT). TV: Live on Fox Sports 2.
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