When the Brumbies run out to face the Western Force in their sole pre-season clash of the year on Tuesday, the reigning Super Rugby AU champions will have a familiar face in their ranks.
In addition to the seven Wallabies named in Dan McKellar’s starting lineup, the Brumbies will also welcome the return of three-test Manu Samoa international Rod Iona to Canberra’s Viking Park.
The 29-year-old has been named to start in the midfield alongside Len Ikitau, six years after he last featured for the ACT side.
Iona debuted for the Brumbies in 2014 after receiving a call-up as injury cover for a clash against the Waratahs in what proved to be his only appearance of the season.
The following year, he played a further two times for the Canberra-based franchise before departing to France to join Pro D2 outfit Beziers in 2016.
Stints in Spain, England and with the Western Force followed afterwards, but Iona now finds himself back in the Australian capital after fielding a call from McKellar at the end of last year.
“Pre-season, when I was putting the group together for the November-December block, it was just a pretty young and inexperienced group,” McKellar told reporters on Monday.
“At that stage, Rod thought he was going to America to play for Utah, so I just offered him the opportunity to come and train. He was excellent for Gordon last year in the Shute Shield and got them to a premiership, so [we] just wanted an experienced voice.
“Worst case scenario, Rod’s headed to America nice and fit and in good shape – always knowing America might not go ahead and that injuries happen in a collision sport and he’d be a good player to have here as cover.
“The boys love him, we all enjoy having him around, he’s a very happy, gregarious character who’s good fun, so really pleased he gets to wear a Brumbies jersey again because it’s probably something he wouldn’t have thought would happen.”
To say that Iona is happy to be back in Brumbies colours is a fair assessment from McKellar, given his new recruit said it was “awesome” be back in a Super Rugby environment.
“Spent a bit of time in the pre-season with the Brumbies and put in the hard work and it’s all come to life now,” he said.
“Worked pretty hard with the boys for nine weeks fortunately I’ll get a start.”
The Queensland Reds have been dealt a significant injury blow as their captain Liam Wright will be sidelined for most of Super Rugby AU.https://t.co/q0tEbzvkja
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) February 8, 2021
While it’s been some time since Iona last featured for the Brumbies, he was adamant nothing had changed at the club in the six years he had been gone.
“The place, the culture, everything’s basically the same, it’s just different players, surprisingly. It’s good to see, though.”
It should come as little surprise, then, that Iona has slotted back into the Brumbies camp seamlessly, although he has no expectations of keeping his place in the starting lineup, even if he has impressed upon his return.
“It’s always in the back of my mind, playing Super Rugby again, but just taking care of the ‘now’ and let that take care of itself in the near future.
“That is a goal of mine [getting minutes in Super Rugby] throughout the pre-season now and the game tomorrow, hopefully do a job there and do me justice there.”
The Brumbies take on the Force at 6pm AEDT on Tuesday, before taking on the Western Australian franchise in their Super Rugby AU season-opener at HBF Park in Perth on February 19.
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