Brumbies full-back Julian Huxley is set to make a remarkable return to the Super 14 at Canberra Stadium against the Chiefs on Friday.
Huxley’s career was put on hold in 2008 after routine scans following a head knock detected a brain tumour. Having received clearance to resume playing three weeks ago, Huxley has strung together two commanding performances for the Brumby Runners and has now been selected on the bench for the Brumbies to tackle the sixth-placed Waikato side.
The 30-year-old’s return is one of three new faces in this week’s Brumbies’ squad.
Eighteen-year-old Michael Hooper will make his Super 14 debut as part of the starting XV at openside flanker. The former Australia A Schoolboys back-rower replaces George Smith, who will miss his first match for the Brumbies since their Week eleven encounter against the Chiefs in 2005.
Fellow 18-year-old back-rower Colby Faingaa is also in line to make his Super 14 debut off the bench. Faingaa is another current Brumbies Academy member and younger brother of former Brumbies twins and current Reds front-liners, Anthony and Saia.
Prop Guy Shepherdson will start alongside Faingaa on the reserves list, replacing Jerry Yanuyanutawa.
The Brumbies’ starting line-up has undertaken several changes following a bruising 39-34 loss to the Blues in Auckland last Friday. Lock/back-rower Mitchell Chapman earns his second start of the season packing down next to Ben Hand in the second row. Mark Chisholm will start off the bench.
The backline has also been reshuffled after Christian Leallifano was ruled out with a ruptured posterior cruciate ligament. In Lealiifano’s absence, Matt Toomua comes into the starting XV at fly-half while Matt Giteau shifts to inside centre. Veteran midfielder Stirling Mortlock returns from his one-week lay-off due to shoulder/neck soreness to resume his role at outside centre.
Brumbies Head Coach Andy Friend says Huxley’s return is one part of a big night for Brumbies supporters at Canberra Stadium.
“This is a great occasion for Julian, his family and friends and the Brumbies and rugby community,” he said.
“For those out at Canberra Stadium on Friday night, they’ll witness a great spectacle in more ways than one. You’ll get to see Hux’s return after a courageous fight back while the Chiefs are one of the most attacking sides in the competition.
“They will attack you from anywhere on the park. We got a taste of what to expect against the Blues last weekend and we need to lift that intensity again and realise that if we turn off for five or 10 minutes we will get punished.
“Our work with the ball has improved with each match and while our defensive systems have been strong all year, they were tested last week and we came up short. We’ll obviously be looking to improve that area on Friday and look for it to culminate in a good win in front of our home crowd.”
Brumbies: 15 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 14 Pat McCabe, 13 Stirling Mortlock, 12 Matt Giteau, 11 Francis Fainifo, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Josh Valentine, 8 Stephen Hoiles (c), 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Rocky Elsom, 5 Mitchell Chapman, 4 Ben Hand, 3 Salesi Ma’afu, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Ben Alexander.
Replacements: 16 Huia Edmonds, 17 Guy Shepherdson, 18 Mark Chisholm, 19 Colby Faingaa, 20 Patrick Phibbs, 21 Tyrone Smith, 22 Julian Huxley.
Date: Friday, 26 March
Kick-off: 19.40 (08.40 GMT)
Venue: Canberra Stadium, Canberra
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Paul Marks (Australia), Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa)
Television match official: Matthew Goddard (Australia)
[Info from Planetrugby.com]