ACT Brumbies veteran Andrew Smith is set to start his first Super Rugby game in more than three years as coach Stephen Larkham searches for a new inside centre.
Smith has emerged as the man to fill the hole left by injured Wallaby Kyle Godwin, who broke his hand last weekend hand had surgery on Tuesday to insert a plate and screws.
If Smith is thrown into battle against the Melbourne Rebels on Saturday night it will be his first starting appearance in 1120 days after a stint in France and injury woes.
The reliable stalwart has spent most of his 60-game career on the wing or at outside centre, but will step into the unfamiliar No. 12 jersey with the job of unleashing the Brumbies’ strike weapons.
Larkham is set to make minimal changes after his side roared to life in a 43-10 win against the Queensland Reds last weekend.
But Godwin (hand) and Jordan Smiler (hamstring) are facing stints on the sideline while skipper Sam Carter is likely to win his spot back after being rotated last week.
Godwin is targeting a comeback for the Brumbies’ two game tour of South Africa and Argentina at the end of May after breaking his hand in the opening minutes of the win against Queensland.
“I’ve got a spiral fracture in the third metacarpal so they thought surgery would be the quickest and best method for recovery,” Godwin said.
“It’s going to be touch and go to get on that South Africa trip. I’m very disappointed that I’m not going to be involved with the team for the next few weeks, but hopefully we can back up this week.
“It was pretty innocuous. I was trying to tackle Samu Kerevi and my finger got caught. I felt like I was starting to improve each week but I’m happy for the boys.”
Smith, who left the Brumbies in 2014 and returned last year, is competing with Jordan Jackson-Hope and Anthony Faingaa for inside centre duties to replace Godwin.
Jarrad Butler could be called on to fill the void left by No. 8 Smiler, while Larkham could also tinker with the bench.
The bulk of the Brumbies squad was in a three-day Wallabies camp at the AIS earlier this week but have refocused on Super Rugby in the hope of continuing their charge.
The Brumbies appeared to hit top gear when they trampled the Reds in the second half, scoring 33 unanswered points to secure their best win of the season.
But the Rebels will be fired up to prove their doubters wrong as the Super Rugby uncertainty continues to hover above the Melbourne franchise.
The Rebels and the Western Force are waiting to present their respective case to the ARU about why they shouldn’t be axed from the competition.
Former Force star Godwin moved to Canberra this year for a fresh start, but the Perth junior said part of his heart is still in Western with his ex-teammates.
The Brumbies were moved into a safe zone earlier this week, but the Rebels will use the frustrating process as motivation to chase their first win of the year.
The Rebels have a history of being the thorn in the Brumbies’ side, scoring the first win in their history against their Canberra rivals in 2011.
The result triggered a disastrous season for the Brumbies and was the catalyst for sacking coach Andy Friend.
Godwin said the Brumbies were determined to carry their attacking momentum into the clash after finally finding the try-scoring groove.
“Hopefully it continues because the Rebels are going to be a really a tough opposition,” Godwin said.
“We’ve also got two games against New Zealand teams so we’re going to need all of the momentum we can get.
“The Rebels are playing for their lives almost so they’ve got a lot to run out there for.”
SUPER RUGBY ROUND EIGHT
Saturday: Melbourne Rebels v ACT Brumbies at AAMI Park, Melbourne, 7.45pm. TV time: Live on Fox Sports 1.