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Larkham, Gregan back for Brumbies

Fotopress

NZPA     17 Feb 2005     Fotopress

It had been feared Larkham would not be ready until the season opener against the Crusaders on February 26 but coach Laurie Fisher named the 30-year-old on an extended bench for the defending champions.

Larkham, who returned to contact training last week for the first time since fracturing an arm against Scotland on the Wallabies end of year trip last November, is expected to play half the match.

"I'm aiming to play thirty or thirty-five minutes and hopefully all goes well and I'll get through the match and be ready to start next weekend in the season opener against the Crusaders," Larkham said.

Wallabies captain George Gregan also makes his first appearance after he was rested from last month's trial loss to the Waratahs.

The 104-match Super 12 veteran said he was looking forward to returning to the base of the scrum after an extended break.

"It's been a while since my last match but I've had a good break," said Gregan, who last played against England in the European tour finale.

"I've been able to get a very good physical preparation leading in to what's going to be a very busy year.

"Physically I'm in really good shape and I started the pre-season without any niggles or injuries, so it's been one of my best preparations and I'm looking forward to taking the field," he said.

"There's a lot of enthusiasm in the squad this year and we've focused a lot on knowledge of our team plays which will hopefully lead to some positive results on the field."

Fisher is close to settling on his top line-up heading into next week's replay of the 2004 final and indicated the inexperienced Adam Ashley-Cooper has edged ahead of his rivals for the starting left wing position vacated by new fullback Mark Gerrard.

"Adam has played quite well in the first two trial matches so at this stage he probably holds a slight edge," Fisher said.

"I've also been impressed with Lenny Beckett during the trials and I'll be watching Henari Veratau very closely this weekend.

"I'll be looking at their performances before deciding on who will start on the left wing against the Crusaders."

Brumbies: Mark Gerrard, Clyde Rathbone, Stirling Mortlock (captain) Adam Ashley-Cooper, Gene Fairbanks, Matt Giteau, George Gregan, Scott Fava, George Smith, Mark Chisholm, Radike Samo, Owen Finegan, Guy Shepherdson, Jeremy Paul, Nic Henderson. Reserves: David Palavi, David Fitter, Alister Campbell, Tamaiti Horua, Matt Henjak, Stephen Larkham, Lenny Beckett, Joel Wilson, Henari Veratau, Adam Wallace-Harrison, Julian Salvi, Tatafu Polota-Nau.