Smith, Rathbone and Nic White named for showdown
THE ACT BRUMBIES received a boost ahead of their Super Rugby playoff against the Cheetahs when influential scrumhalf Nic White was passed fit to start Sunday’s match in chilly Canberra.
Openside flanker George Smith, who won his 111th test cap against the British and Irish Lions two weeks ago, also returns to the starting lineup after coming off the bench in last week’s shock defeat to Western Force.
Coach Jake White also sprang something of a surprise yesterday by bringing former Wallabies winger Clyde Rathbone into his run-on side in place of current Australia international Joe Tomane.
Scrumhalf White, 22, has not played since fracturing his collarbone against the Melbourne Rebels on June 7, the match which secured the twice champions a place in post-season play for the first time since they won their second title in 2004.
Both Smith and Rathbone started in the final victory over the Canterbury Crusaders nine years ago and neither would have been considered likely to feature at the start of the year.
Rathbone returned to the Brumbies on a one-year contract after three years in retirement, while Smith needed the permission of his Japanese club Suntory to extend his stay in Canberra after a season- ending injury to David Pocock.
“Bringing two guys like Clyde and George into our starting side will give us experience when we need it,” coach White said in a media release.
“Those two guys have both won championships at Canberra Stadium and it’s exciting to have them involved.
“The Cheetahs are a side which has made huge improvements over the last two seasons and it’s a credit to them that they are now a competition threat.”
A win for the Brumbies tomorrow would send them to South Africa to face the Bulls in the semifinals next weekend and the winner of the other playoff clash – between Canterbury Crusaders and Queensland Reds – to Hamilton to face the Waikato Chiefs.
If the Bloemfontein-based Cheetahs manage an upset in their first playoff match, they would go to New Zealand with the Crusaders or Reds making the long trip to Pretoria to play the second-seeded Bulls.
Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske was able to name an unchanged side from the victory over the Auckland Blues two weeks ago as the South Africans bid for a fourth win in a row in Australia.
Captain Adriaan Strauss will lead the forward effort from the middle of the front row, while the Brumbies will be aware of the threat of Willie le Roux on the wing.
Their week training in mild weather in the Sydney seaside suburb of Coogee will not have prepared them for the Canberra chill, however, with a maximum temperature of eight degrees Celsius and a chance of snow forecast for tomorrow.
BACK IN THE FRAY: Clyde Rathbone is set to make a return to the Brumbies for the play-off match against the Cheetahs tomorrow.