The ACT Brumbies are to bring Wallabies centre Tevita Kuridrani straight into the starting line-up for their Super Rugby season opener after the end of his five-game ban for a dangerous tackle.
And Andrew Smith may make a rare appearance at inside centre for Saturday’s clash against the Queensland Reds at Canberra Stadium.
Kuridrani was sent off during the Wallabies’ victory over Ireland on their European spring tour last year for lifting flanker Peter O’Mahony.
His suspension meant he missed the last two games of the tour and all three of the Brumbies’ trial games.
But he is eligible to face the Reds on Saturday and looks likely to be given the No.13 jersey as part of Stephen Larkham’s first Super Rugby back line since being named Brumbies head coach.
Kuridrani established himself as the Brumbies outside centre on the way to a Super Rugby grand final and made his Wallabies debut in the Bledisloe Cup against New Zealand last year.
In all of his eight Tests, he played alongside gun fullback Israel Folau in what turned out to be a break-out year for the pair.
Folau backed the 22-year-old to have a “bright future”.
“He had a great spring tour last year and I really enjoyed playing with him,” the code hopper said. ”He’s a young kid who’s got a bright future ahead of him.
“Hopefully he does really well this year as well.”
Kuridrani is known for his bash-and-crash style of rugby, with powerful running in direct lines.
But he’s also excellent around the breakdown, which has become a focus of the modern Brumbies game plan.
Folau said Kuridrani’s defence was also top notch. ”His defence is great, he’s really strong and he’s good at reading when teams throw some attacking plays at him,” Folau said.
“His strength is in attack when he runs strong lines and carries the ball strongly.
“Obviously there are things he wants to work on … but he’s got a bright future and he’ll be fine.”
It was thought Kuridrani and Smith would battle it out for the No. 13 jersey, with the latter the favourite given his strong performances in the pre-season trials. But it looks like Smith will get the nod at inside centre.
The Brumbies will be without usual No. 12 Christian Lealiifano until mid-March after he had ankle surgery at the end of the Wallabies tour.
It’s hoped he will be ready for the round-five clash with the NSW Waratahs at Canberra Stadium on March 15.
Pat McCabe and Japan international Harumichi Tatekawa were both in contention to replace Lealiifano, but it is believed the Brumbies are concerned about McCabe’s confidence after two broken necks in the past 15 months. He’s played just 85 minutes since June.
Smith’s inclusion would make for a powerful centre combination as both Smith and Kuridrani are direct runners.
South African playmaker Lionel Cronje is also in line for a spot on the bench against the Reds. The 24-year-old is a versatile back who can play at five-eighth, in the centres or at fullback.
He came to the Brumbies from the Johannesburg Lions and has 11 Super Rugby caps from South Africa and is a former South Africa under-20s representative.