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Brumbies call upon fourth-choice prop as front row injury crisis hits

By AAP
Harry Vella of the Brumbies looks to evade the tackler during the round 15 Super Rugby Pacific match between Western Force and ACT Brumbies at HBF Park, on June 01, 2024, in Perth, Australia. (Photo by James Worsfold/Getty Images)

The Brumbies are confident fourth-choice prop Harry Vella will rise to the occasion as injuries threaten to de-rail the ACT outfit’s most promising Super Rugby Pacific campaign in years.

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Captain Allan Alaalatoa has seen his front-row partners fall around him like dominoes in recent weeks.

Loosehead Blake Schoupp aggravated a shoulder injury two minutes into his final-round dead-rubber return against the Western Force at the weekend.

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He had been rushed back into the squad to replace fellow Test prop James Slipper, who is battling a calf complaint.

Neither player is likely to feature in the Brumbies’ home quarter-final against the Highlanders on Saturday, leaving a heap of valuable experience on the sidelines.

“You got to feel for Schouppie. He did everything he could to be back for the finals and probably knew the risk that he was going to take in doing that,” Allalatoa said.

“It’s a credit to him and how much he loves his team, so the boys especially in the front row will be thinking of him when we take the field.”

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Vella, 23, was imperious after being asked to play almost 80 minutes at short notice in the 24-19 victory in Perth.

“He did an awesome job last week, someone who’s probably the hardest worker in the team,” his captain crowed.

“He’s been a grafter for the last couple of years so he’ll probably look to get an opportunity this weekend and I know that the boys will be backing him. We know that he’s going to do a job up front and do a really good job for us.”

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Alaalatoa knows all too well the depths of frustration his teammates are feeling. The 30-year-old was ruled out of the 2023 finals campaign with a calf injury of his own.

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“I had a little reflection yesterday on the way back from Perth that this time last year I wasn’t playing, and when you think back to those emotions that I was feeling, I’ve just been doing everything I could to be there,” he said.

“Now I’ve been given the opportunity to be there. We’ve just got to make sure that the team’s humming, which I know that we will be.”

The Brumbies go into the play-off as favourites over their New Zealand opposition after recording 12 wins and two losses in the regular season – the club’s best-ever return in their 29-year history.

But Alaalatoa still has painful memories of the last time they hosted the Highlanders in a quarter-final, beaten 15-9 on a wet and cold evening in 2017.

“That’s a great example of why you can’t be thinking too far ahead,” he said.

“We know the threats that they pose but also the opportunities that are there. We’ve just got to make sure that we focus on things that we can control, which is our preparation this week. Come finals footy everything just dials up, the intent in training lifts.”

Watch the exclusive reveal-all episode of Walk the Talk with Ardie Savea as he chats to Jim Hamilton about the RWC 2023 experience, life in Japan, playing for the All Blacks and what the future holds. Watch now for free on RugbyPass TV

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