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Brumbies appoint young halfback as captain for Waratahs clash

By Jack O'Rourke
(Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

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Australian rugby fans will get a preview of Super Rugby Pacific this weekend when the ACT Brumbies meet the NSW Waratahs in the first trial match of the year. 

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The hit-out will take place in Bowral in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales after other trials across the country were called off due to Covid-19 and border restrictions.

It presents a golden opportunity for the two teams to get some time out on the paddock after a gruelling preseason. 

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The Brumbies have announced an extended match-day squad that aims to mix new recruits with seasoned veterans, choosing to leave some Wallabies at home.  

There will still be some big stars lining up for a trot. Wallabies Tom Banks, Darcy Swain, and Scott Sio have all been named to start, alongside newcomers Chris Feauai-Sautia, Declan Meredith and Hudson Creighton. 

Amongst those named in the starting team is apprentice scrumhalf Ryan Lonergan, who has been named as captain for the match. 

Lonergan has become a fan-favourite down in Canberra since kicking a 55-metre penalty goal after the siren to beat the Rebels in front of a home crowd back in March of 2021. Those heroics put him on the Wallabies radar and he was named in the initial squad for the Rugby Championship.

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Brumbies coach Dan McKellar is putting his faith in Lonergan to lead around the side, opting to leave Nic White out of the team completely. 

Speaking on the importance of giving opportunities to members of the larger training squad this upcoming season, Lonergan told media on Thursday that the trial against the Waratahs would be a good challenge for his side, and predicted that fringe players could get a call-up earlier than expected. 

“If it was ever going to happen, it was going to happen this year,” said Lonergan.

“It’s going to be a great test of depth, along with the things that come with every other year; like injuries and illnesses. It’s a really exciting time.”

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One of those players getting an opportunity this weekend is highly-touted hooker Billy Pollard, who will pack down for his first start.

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It’s been a long time coming for the former Junior Wallaby, who has had to bide his time behind three other Wallabies hookers at the Brumbies while battling a foot injury. 

“Obviously the first two years I have just come in and tried to learn as much as I can. This year I’m still certainly trying to do that, but if I can mix that with a bit of game time that would be nice as well, just to put into practice everything I have learnt.

“Nossy (Lachlan Lonergan), Lau (Folau Fainga’a) and Conn (Connal McInerney), all the boys, they go out of their way to help so much, and I feel like they have taught me a fair bit. I’ve still got a lot more to learn, but if I get that into some games that would be pretty exciting – if I get the chance to do so.”

Pollard made his debut against the Highlanders in the last round of Super Rugby Trans-Tasman is itching for more playing time to prove his mettle.

“It was a very nerve-wracking experience, but it is something that I really needed because sitting on the sideline a lot you just wonder, am I up to it? what is it going to be like? Am I going to handle it?”

Hopefully now going forward, I get a couple of more games, just to hone in on what I have been working on. At the moment, I’m just trying to focus on tomorrow and do what I can.” 

Also named in the team are new players Ed Kennedy, Ollie Sapsford and Cam Clark, with Jesse Mogg returning for his second stint at the club. They are joined by Len Ikitau and Wallabies squad members Andy Muirhead and Nick Frost. Exciting youngsters Harry Vella and Titi Nofoagatatoa will be hoping to get their first crack at Super Rugby.

It will be the Brumbies only trial before they face the Western Force on 19 February.

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