Leali'ifano a 'big game player': Brumbies
April 24, 2014
Leali'ifano will make his first start for the Brumbies this season © Getty Images
Christian Leali'ifano is a big game player. That's why the Brumbies have given him the No.12 jersey and dropped the in-form Pat McCabe for Friday's Super Rugby grand final rematch against the Chiefs in Canberra.
The clash between the two conference leaders will be a tough run-on return for Leali'ifano, who missed the first month of the season due to ankle surgery following last year's Wallabies duties. He's been stuck behind McCabe for a month but, according to Brumbies director of rugby Laurie Fisher, there's no better time for Leali'ifano to return than against last year's Super Rugby champions.
"He's a big game player - right through the Lions series, right through the Wallabies season and how he performed at the back end of last Super Rugby season," Fisher said.
It's a harsh blow for McCabe, whose hard, straight running lines have earned him man-of-the-match in two Brumbies' outings, despite returning from his second broken neck at the beginning of the season.
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"Paddy has done exceptionally well. But we need to be working towards finding out our absolute best 15," Fisher said. "And we think it's important in this game to have a ball player at second receiver."
Captain Ben Mowen added that Leali'ifano, who slotted penalty goals at an unrivalled 88 per cent last season, had sealed late victories for the Brumbies and Wallabies in recent times. "He's world class. You can't underestimate the importance of scoreboard pressure," Mowen said.
Also returning for the Brumbies will be underrated lock Sam Carter, who's missed two matches with a knee injury. "Week in, week out, he's either first or second in the tackle count and, in the ruck count, he's the same," Mowen said.
The return of Carter will also help the Brumbies apply pressure on the Chiefs' lineout. The Brumbies have the competition's best lineout success rate on their own throw (94 per cent), while the Chiefs (74 per cent) are the worst performers. "It's an area we try and target every week and certainly [will] against the Chiefs," Fisher said.
The Chiefs' late victory in last year's final is still a sore point for the Brumbies. Mowen said he still found it too tough to watch the final. "For us as a side, it's still very fresh," he said.
Brumbies: Jesse Mogg; Joe Tomane, Tevita Kuridrani, Christian Leali'ifano, Robbie Coleman; Matt Toomua, Nic White; Ben Mowen (captain), Jarrad Butler, Jordan Smiler; Sam Carter, Scott Fardy, Ben Alexander; Stephen Moore, Scott Sio. Reserves: Siliva Siliva, Ruan Smith, JP Smith, Jack Whetton, Tom McVerry, Michael Dowsett, Andrew Smith, Pat McCabe.