The ACT Brumbies have defied Australia coach Michael Cheika by naming David Pocock, Scott Sio and Allan Alaalatoa in their team for tomorrow’s Super Rugby match against the Sunwolves.
Cheika had requested the Wallabies trio be rested as the match against the Japanese team in Canberra falls just six days before the opening test of Australia’s series against Joe Schmidt’s Ireland.
The Brumbies, however, are engaged in a battle to arrest a worrying decline in crowd numbers and were reluctant to rest three of their best players for an afternoon match they hope will attract 15,000 fans.
The side can also still make the playoffs as they sit 11 points behind the Australian Conference-leading NSW Waratahs with four matches remaining, meaning a bonus-point win would help them stay in the hunt.
Openside flanker Pocock, and props Sio and Alaalatoa will all start against the Sunwolves along with fullback Tom Banks, centre Tevita Kuridani and scrumhalf Joe Powell, who were also named in Cheika’s squad for the June series.
A seventh player in the Australia squad, uncapped hooker Folau Fainga’a, is suspended after being sent off in the victory over South Africa’s Bulls in Pretoria last week and will be replaced in the front row by Connal McInerney.
“We want to work with Rugby Australia and the Wallabies ... this isn’t about diminishing those relationships,” Brumbies coach Dan McKellar said.
“We just felt the scheduling and the timing of it was a little bit off, and at this point in time we need to do what’s best for the Brumbies. We both understand each other’s positions but in this instance, we can’t come to an agreement. It’s not great [for the players to be involved], it’s far from ideal. The players are being pulled from both sides and we need to make sure moving forward this doesn’t happen again.”
Asked if the trio wanted to play against the Sunwolves, McKellar said: “100%. I wouldn’t pick anyone who doesn’t want to play.
Brumbies officials have warned that the twice Super Rugby champions might “cease to exist” if crowd numbers did not improve but Cheika suggested fans in the Australian capital would turn out even if the trio were not playing.
“They’re a good crowd down there in Canberra,” Cheika said this week. “They’ve always been very supportive of their team and I’m sure they’ll be out there in force this weekend, regardless of whether those three lads are playing or not.”
But he admitted that collaboration in Australian rugby needed to improve for the Wallabies to be one of the top teams in the world.
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