Faingaa, Sio and Alcock all return to Brumbies side

Brumbies training- Saia Faingaa. Photo by Karleen Minney. Photo: Karleen MinneyACT Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham has backed 75-minute rookie Robbie Abel to step up in his first Super Rugby start in the team’s bid to break a New Zealand hoodoo on Saturday night.

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Abel will start at hooker when the Brumbies play the Otago Highlanders at Canberra Stadium with Saia Faingaa to come off the bench in his first game for the club in almost a decade.

It will be an emotional return for Faingaa, who is playing Super Rugby for the first time since his father, Saia Senior, died last month.

Abel and Faingaa will team up to fill the void left by veteran Josh Mann-Rea, who is facing a two-month stint on the sideline after damaging cartilage in his knee.

Abel had played just a handful of Super Rugby minutes in his five games before he was thrown into a 60-minute challenge last weekend when Mann-Rea couldn’t continue.

“Robbie’s progression over the past 12 months has been immense,” Larkham said.

“He has been pushing for a starting spot from the first game this year and was probably disappointed not to have a little bit more game time already.

“It’s obviously a blow losing your starting hooker, but Robbie had a fantastic game last weekend and I think the challenge for the reserves at the moment is to make sure they stay motivated.

“We saw Robbie get just two minutes two weeks ago but then played 60 minutes last week. You’ve got to be ready for your opportunity.”

The Brumbies have shuffled the decks despite winning their past two matches, with Larkham happy to change his line-up to keep players fresh and motivated.

Chris Alcock returns to the starting XV after suffering from concussion symptoms last week while Blake Enever replaces Wallabies lock Rory Arnold in the second row.

Winger James Dargaville is also back in the starting side while Test prop Scott Sio will make his comeback on the bench after recovering from a hamstring injury.

Faingaa has been on limited training duties for the past month after the Brumbies granted him leave following sudden death of his father.

The Queanbeyan junior started his rugby career at the Brumbies before moving to the Queensland Reds in 2008.

“He’s had some ups and downs … but he’s itching to go and get on to the paddock for the Brumbies for the first time in [nine years],” Larkham said.

“For us, [Saia] is a guy who adds impact and that’s what we’re expecting. He’s a Super Rugby winner, a Test player and still has the fire there.”

SUPER RUGBY ROUND FIVE

Saturday: ACT Brumbies v Otago Highlanders at Canberra Stadium, 7.45pm. Tickets available at Ticketek.

Brumbies team: 15. Aidan Toua, 14. Henry Speight, 13. Tevita Kuridrani, 12. Kyle Godwin, 11. James Dargaville, 10. Wharenui Hawera, 9. Joe Powell, 8. Jordan Smiler, 7. Chris Alcock, 6. Scott Fardy, 5. Sam Carter, 4. Blake Enever, 3. Allan Alaalatoa, 2. Robbie Abel, 1. Nic Mayhew. Reserves: 16. Saia Faingaa, 17. Scott Sio, 18. Ben Alexander, 19. Rory Arnold, 20. Tom Staniforth, 21. Lolo Fakaosilea, 22. De Wet Roos, 23. Jordan Jackson-Hope.

Highlanders team: 15. Ben Smith, 14. Patelesio Tomkinson, 13. Malakai Fekitoa, 12. Richard Buckman, 11. Patrick Osborne, 10. Fletcher Smith, 9 Aaron Smith, 8. Luke Whitelock, 7. Dillon Hunt, 6. Elliot Dixon, 5. Tom Franklin, 4. Alex Ainley, 3. Siate Tokolahi, 2. Liam Coltman, 1. Daniel Lienert-Brown. Reserves: 16. Greg Pleasants-Tate, 17. Aki Seiuli, 18. Siosuia Halanukonuka, 19. Joe Wheeler, 20. Gareth Evans, 21. Kayne Hammington, 22. Marty Banks, 23. Matt Faddes.