Jarrad Butler has been handed the tough but timely task of replacing suspended star David Pocock in the Brumbies’ all-important Super Rugby derby against the NSW Waratahs.
Butler has been named at No.7 for Saturday’s match at Allianz Stadium, with Pocock serving a two-game ban for a dangerous neck grab in the club’s last-start loss to the Chiefs.
If he passes a final fitness test on Friday, it’ll be his first game in over a month after injuring his knee at training in Cape Town in March.
“We’re pretty hopeful that he’ll be right,” coach Stephen Larkham said on Thursday, adding that former Australian sevens player Michael Wells will start in his place if need be.
It’s not the first time Butler will step up at openside flanker in Pocock’s absence.
The 24-year-old was thrown in the deep end in his first year at the ACT franchise early in 2014, when the Wallaby ruptured his ACL for a second time.
This time, he could very well be playing for his future, with his contract expiring at season’s end.
“Jarrad has filled in before at No.7 and done a fantastic job for a whole season,” Larkham said.
“That’s the beauty of Jarrad. He’s a class player, he’s been here for a number of years now and he’s invaluable to the team – whether he’s starting or coming off the bench.
“He knows his role and he understands rugby.”
Jordan Smiler has been called in to replace the gaping hole at No.8 left by Ita Vaea, who suddenly retired on Monday due to an ongoing heart condition.
The two forced changes won’t, however, affect the Brumbies’ style or approach to the potentially season-defining battle.
“We don’t have to change anything in terms of the way we’re playing,” added Larkham.
“Those guys just have to fit into the style that we’ve been trying to put out there since round one.”
Aside from Pocock and Vaea, Larkham has kept faith with the side that went down to the Chiefs last-start in their biggest ever loss in Canberra.
He said they’ve come back a lot fresher following their bye week and are in a good headspace.
“We’ve settled on we think is our best team and it doesn’t change just because a result goes against us,” he said.
Brumbies: Aidan Toua, Robbie Coleman, Joe Tomane, Tevita Kuridrani, Matt Toomua, Christian Lealiifano (c), Tomas Cubelli, Jarrad Butler, Jordan Smiler, Scott Fardy, Sam Carter, Rory Arnold, Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore (c), Scott Sio. Reserves: Josh Mann-Rea, Allan Alaalatoa, Leslie Leulua’iali’i-Makin, Tom Staniforth, Michael Wells, Joe Powell, James Dargaville, Nigel Ah Wong.