The Highlanders don’t believe fielding a loose forward at lock is asking for trouble, even against the rumbling maul of the Brumbies.
Coach Jamie Joseph raised eyebrows when he named one-Test No.8 Luke Whitelock for Friday’s quarter-final in Canberra.
The 25-year-old has been a standout in the loose for the defending champions over the second half of the season but is unproven as a tight forward.
However, he has finished several games there and Joseph points out he has similar physical characteristics to demoted lock Alex Ainley.
The move wasn’t anything to do with the return of world class Brumbies openside flanker David Pocock.
Joseph says they rarely base selection on opposition personnel or tactics.
“We’ve got a few things we want to achieve on attack and we want to focus on what we bring to the game,” he said.
“Luke’s an experienced footy player and we don’t think it’s a big risk.”
Joseph said he want to find a way to squeeze No.8 Liam Squire and co-captain Shane Christie back into the side and was reluctant to drop Whitelock, the younger brother of accomplished All Blacks lock Sam Whitelock.
Dropping Ainley and James Lentjes, two heroes of last year’s finals campaign, was hard but necessary.
Joseph is prepared for the Brumbies to launch their trademark rolling maul.
He was heartened that the Australian side only managed one try with that technique when the teams met in Invercargill in April, when the Highlanders won an arm wrestle 23-10.
Joseph expects things to be equally tense on Friday but is reading little into the Highlanders’ poor form in Canberra.
They have lost eight out of 10 games there, including the last four.
“In round-robin it’s always hard to beat the Brumbies here. They’ve always been a quality side since Super Rugby started really.”
The Highlanders have deliberately had a light week following a period of travel and a taxing final-round home win over the Chiefs in Dunedin.