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Connal McInerney back on Brumbies radar as Christian Lealiifano prepares for return

10 February 2018 9:39 AM
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The ACT Brumbies will recall their Wallabies stars and Christian Lealiifano this week for a chance to break a New Zealand hoodoo before the Super Rugby season starts.

The Brumbies will play against the Waikato Chiefs in their last pre-season match on the Sunshine Coast on Wednesday night, with coach Dan McKellar to roll out a near full-strength side for the clash.

The match will have little bearing on the regular season, but it's a chance for the Brumbies to beat a New Zealand opponent for the first time since the opening round of the 2016 Super Rugby campaign.

They went within two points of ending the streak on Saturday before falling agonisingly short when the Wellington Hurricanes knocked the Brumbies out of Brisbane 10s title contention.

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The Brumbies won one of three games at the tournament, beating the Fiji but losing to the Hurricanes (12-10) and the Canterbury Crusaders (31-7).

McKellar used the tournament to give fringe players a chance to stamp their claims for future selection.

Royals premiership-winning hooker Connal McInerney did just that even though he thought he had fallen off the Brumbies radar when he moved to Sydney at the end of last year.

McInerney was added to the Brumbies squad for the trial against the Melbourne Rebels and the Brisbane 10s, but will return to Sydney on Sunday with Josh Mann-Rea to make his comeback this week.

It caps a whirlwind two weeks for 22-year-old who will play for Eastern Suburbs in the Sydney competition this year in the hope of launching his career.

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"To be honest, when Dan first called me I thought it was a pocket call. I didn't ring him back for a couple of hours and then he sent me a text," McInerney said.

"I thought I was completely out of the [Brumbies] system as soon as I moved to Sydney, I thought they would put a black line through my name.

"It all happened really quick, I drove in two days before the trial against the Rebels and basically jumped out of the car, put my boots on and went straight into lineouts.

"It was just like being home for me. I was very laid back because I thought I had nothing to lose and that really helped, so I enjoyed it."

Jordan Jackson-Hope and prop Faalelei Sione scored tries against the Hurricanes, but the Brumbies couldn't convert either and were bundled out of the Brisbane 10s.

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Veteran Andrew Walker was as crafty as ever and the 44-yaer-old showed he had lost none of the magic that made him a dynamic Super Rugby and NRL champion.

Henry Speight scored two tries against Fiji in the opening game on Friday and Chance Peni scored his first try for the Brumbies in a 17-12 win.

But the Crusaders were ruthless in the second game and punished every Brumbies error in a 31-7 rout, with McInerney scoring the only try for the Canberra side.

Winger Lausii Taliauli was cleared of a knee injury on Friday night after being forced to leave the field two minutes into his second game since having a knee reconstruction.

McKellar will add Lealiifano, Scott Sio, Tevita Kuridrani and Josh Mann-Rea to the squad for their first games of the year this week.

Lealiifano has played just one game for the Brumbies in the past 18 months after being diagnosed with leukaemia, but used a stint in Ireland at the end of last year to recapture his best form.

Saturday: WELLINGTON HURRICANES 12 bt ACT BRUMBIES 10 (Jordan Jackson-Hope, Faalelei Sione tries) at Suncorp Stadium.

Pre-season trial: ACT Brumbies v Waikato Chiefs at Sunshine Coast Stadium, 8pm.

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