Pumas scrum-half Tomas Cubelli makes his return from a lengthy injury for the ACT Brumbies but cancer survivor Christian Lealiifano’s expected comeback has been delayed in this weekend’s penultimate round of Super Rugby.
Argentine Cubello, who has not played since suffering a pre-season knee injury, gets his chance off the bench behind Joe Powell when the Canberra side face the Queensland Reds in Brisbane on Friday.
But a much-anticipated return to rugby for Lealiifano has been put off by a hamstring niggle and Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham decided not to risk the former Wallabies’ back.
“He tightened up at training yesterday and a couple of days out from the game there’s no point risking it,” Larkham told reporters.
Lealiifano is on a remarkable comeback trail after being diagnosed with leukaemia last year and undergoing a bone marrow transplant.
Cubelli had a run out for the Brumbies alongside Lealiifano in an exhibition match in Singapore last month.
“He came on for the last 30 minutes over there and really added some spark and energy to the group. I think that’s what we’ll be looking for,” Larkham said.
Cubelli’s injury has enabled Joe Powell’s breakout season as the Brumbies starting scrum-half, with his Super Rugby form earning him a first Wallabies cap last month.
Incoming Brumbies coach Dan McKellar is tight-lipped about the prospects of extending Cubelli’s stay in Canberra beyond this season.
Only five matches will be played in this weekend’s 16th round following the June international Test window.
The New Zealand teams will re-enter the competition for the last round next week following the completion of the British and Irish Lions series in New Zealand.
The eight Super Rugby quarter-finalists have been decided – the four Conference winners (Crusaders, Lions, Stormers, Brumbies) and the four wild card teams (Hurricanes, Chiefs, Highlanders and Sharks).
However, the final positions and the quarter-final seedings that determine who plays who are yet to be decided.
This weekend’s round is important for the Brumbies and Stormers, who are battling it out at to see who will finish third and fourth seeds as Conference winners.
The Stormers host the Sunwolves in Cape Town after the Japanese team was savaged 94-7 by the Golden Lions in Johannesburg last weekend.
In this weekend’s other games, the New South Wales Waratahs host Argentina’s Jaguares in Sydney and Western Force and Melbourne Rebels, both still under threat for next year’s competition, face off in Perth.
The Northern Bulls and Southern Kings, both out of contention for the finals, meet in Pretoria.
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