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Missing Mortlock Could Work Out For Brumbies

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Missing Mortlock Could Work Out For Brumbies

By Chris Barclay of NZPA

Sydney, May 12 NZPA - Brumbies stalwart Stirling Mortlock's experience will be missing from their virtual Super 14 rugby quarterfinal against the Crusaders in Christchurch on Friday although his absence may ironically prove a good omen for the two-time champions.

A bulging disc in his back forced Mortlock to seek a painkilling injection at Canberra Hospital in the early hours of Monday, a final indication his 121-game career with the Brumbies has ended prematurely.

The former Wallabies captain has been sidelined for a month with the back complaint as injuries conspire to ruin his farewell season before he becomes a foundation member of the Melbourne Rebels.

Mortlock faces the prospect of surgery -- and a three-month recovery -- to deal with an injury that he had successfully managed for eight years.

"Every now and then it would flare up but now it's got to the stage where it's chronic," he said.

Fortunately for Brumbies head coach Andy Friend, he is accustomed to having Mortlock look on from the sidelines this season as Mat Giteau and Tyrone Smith eventually moulded an effective midfield combination.

There could be another upside for the Brumbies because Mortlock was also unavailable for the climaxes to their 2001 and 2004 championship campaigns that culminated with wins in the final over the Sharks and Crusaders.

Friend said while Mortlock's hard running and tactical nous would be missed in Christchurch, he was confident his backline would be capable of producing a cohesive performance.

In an attempt to negate the sixth-placed Crusaders' kicking game on what is expected to be a wet night in Christchurch, Friend has deliberately named a trio of players with experience at fullback in his back three.

Julian Huxley takes over from in-form and likely Wallabies custodian Adam Ashley-Cooper after recovering from a hamstring injury that sidelined him for a fortnight.

Ashley-Cooper is switched to a wing to offer more protection against Daniel Carter's raking punts.

"When you head to Christchurch it's handy to have three fullbacks," said Friend, who is anticipating a typically tight encounter against opponents in desperation mode after losing all three matches on their road trip to South Africa via Perth.

"They were probably confident when they left on their road trip ... now it's do-or-die for them.

"Our confidence is building after two good wins (against the Reds and Highlanders). We stand a very good chance if we can play like we have the last couple of weeks."

The fourth-placed Brumbies have not won in Christchurch since their 17-12 victory in the final round of the regular season in 2000, a defeat the Crusaders ultimately avenged in the title decider in Canberra.

Friend, who still has the ultra-experienced flanker George Smith to fill Mortlock's leadership void, hinted at an expansive gameplan although that was dependent on the weather conditions.

"We do like to attack, we want some ball movement and if the conditions allow that's how we'll look to play," he said before stating the obvious: "A 3-0 victory is enough."


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