The Brumbies expect David Pocock to be a target when he makes his long-awaited return from an eye socket injury in Friday’s Super Rugby quarter-final against the Highlanders.
The Wallabies superstar has been named at openside flanker to take on the defending champions at GIO Stadium after getting clearance from specialists.
Pocock hasn’t played since fracturing his eye socket six weeks ago in the Wallabies’ first Test against England.
He has trained the past two weeks, wearing specially-designed headgear to protect his face.
His presence could prove the difference for the Brumbies, who have been less-than-impressive in their last two outing against the lowly Western Force and the Blues.
Playmaker Matt Toomua said getting Pocock back was massive, especially against a side as skilful and in-form as the Highlanders.
“To have him in these big games and hopefully slow up their ball will be brilliant,” he said.
“They like to play that really fast footy and with a guy like him either stealing the ball or slowing it down definitely plays into our hands.”
The Highlanders found a way to limit Pocock’s influence the last time they met in Invercargill in round 10, which they won 23-10.
It was also his comeback game from a two-match suspension.
“I’m sure they’ll be focusing on him heavily – as you would,” Toomua added.
“But that can provide opportunities for other guys. We’ve got more guys than just Dave, but in saying that, to have him back in such a great game is always a good thing.”
The Highlanders have also named their champion No.7 and co-captain Shane Christie, who missed their past two matches through illness.
The Brumbies, however, will be without newly-capped Wallabies lock Rory Arnold who failed to recover from an elbow injury suffered in last Saturday’s win over the Force.
Blake Enever has been named to start in his place, while Robbie Coleman is back and will replace James Dargaville on the wing.
Former Wallaby Ben Alexander has been bumped from the match-day squad, with tighthead props Leslie Leuluaialii-Makin and Ruan Smith getting the nod after their last performance against the Highlanders.
Larkham has named an extended eight-man bench, with one reserve to be dropped before kick-off.
Brumbies: Aidan Toua, Nigel Ah Wong, Tevita Kuridrani, Matt Toomua, Robbie Coleman, Christian Lealiifano, Tomas Cubell, Jarrad Butler, David Pocock, Scott Fardy, Sam Carter, Blake Enever, Ruan Smith, Stephen Moore, Scott Sio. Reserves: Josh Mann-Rea, Allan Alaalatoa, Leslie Leuluaialii-Makin, Tom Staniforth, Michael Wells, Joe Powell, Andrew Smith, James Dargaville, Lausii Taliauli.