Henry Speight ready to repay Brumbies after whirlwind year of Super Rugby and Olympics
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Henry Speight ready to repay Brumbies after whirlwind year of Super Rugby and Olympics

The forgotten man of the ACT Brumbies says he wants to "find my voice" as he prepares to make his Super Rugby comeback after a year punctuated by injuries and an Olympic Games dream.

Henry Speight will play his first game for the Brumbies in almost 12 months when he returns to the wing for a clash against the Canterbury Crusaders in Christchurch.

Henry Speight trains for the Brumbies this week.

Henry Speight trains for the Brumbies this week.Credit:RUGBY.com.au/Stuart Walmsley

The flying Fijian put his Super Rugby career on hold last year to pursue his Olympic ambition with the Australian sevens team.

It limited him to just four games for the Brumbies and he spent more time recovering from injuries than he did on the rugby field.

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Speight clawed his way back into Olympic contention despite fracturing his skull and then injuring his knee, with both injuries keeping him out of action for more than six months.

But the 28-year-old is ready to unleash his injury frustrations on the Crusaders and repay the Brumbies for giving him a chance to play at the Olympics."It took me a while to settle back into the Brumbies," Speight said.

"I know I have to find my voice again but being able to have that experience of doing something different was really, really good for me.

"Some of it is about getting my confidence back. I've been out for a while now and I'm really, really hungry for this year."

Speight will be forced to step up as a back line leader this year after the departure of several key players from last season.

Christian Lealiifano is in remission after being diagnosed with leukaemia last year and it's unlikely he will play this year while Tomas Cubelli (knee) will miss four months of the season, Matt Toomua has moved to England and Joe Tomane is in France.

The Brumbies will throw rookie flyhalf Wharenui Hawera into the Super Rugby deep end against the Crusaders and 11-game scrumhalf Joe Powell will replace Cubelli.

But while some have written the Brumbies off, Speight says young blood can add spark to the back line and ignite the team's attack.

"It's exciting times, we've got a really good mix in that back line of different sorts of players," Speight said.

"Guys like Wharenui, Jordan Jackson-Hope and Kyle Godwin come in and add their own element of where we want to take the attack in Super Rugby.

"We've got some nippy little fellas and they've got that rawness about them. We know people will see that as a weakness, but it can be our strength as well."

Speight, who has played 78 games for the Brumbies, was forced to ride an emotional rollercoaster last year as was hit with constant setbacks.

He fractured his skull in his last game for the Brumbies in March and doctors used a titanium mesh to repair the crack above his left eyebrow.

When he was finally ready to make his comeback for the Australian sevens in May, he damaged ligaments in his knee and was told he wouldn't be fit for another 12 weeks.

But instead of giving up, Speight put all of his energy into rehabilitation and was on a plane to Rio five weeks later as a reserve for the Australian Olympic squad.

That meant travelling to Rio with the sevens team, but not being eligible to play.

It was an emotionally-draining experience, but Speight's year ended on a high when he was called into the Wallabies squad to make a surprise Test appearance.

"I really want another crack in that [Wallabies] gold jersey again, that drives me," Speight said.

"I feel like a new kid again. Last year has taught me a lot and I think it has really strengthened me mentally.

"I was so close but so far in Rio and I've never experienced anything like that. But I really think it can help me mentally. The hunger to play for the Brumbies has never been stronger. I love this city. I want to give back to the Brumbies and to Canberra."

SUPER RUGBY ROUND ONE

Saturday: Canterbury Crusaders v ACT Brumbies at Christchurch, 5.30pm. TV time: Live on Fox Sports 1.

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Brumbies team: 15. Aidan Toua, 14. Henry Speight, 13. Tevita Kuridrani, 12. Kyle Godwin, 11. James Dargaville, 10. Wharenui Hawera, 9. Joe Powell, 8. Jordan Smiler, 7. Chris Alcock, 6. Scott Fardy. 5. Sam Carter, 4. Rory Arnold, 3. Allan Alaalatoa, 2. Josh Mann-Rea, 1. Scott Sio. Reserves: 16. Robbie Abel, 17. Ben Alexander, 18. Les Leuluaialii-Makin, 19. Tom Staniforth, 20. Lolo Fakaosilea, 21. De Wet Roos, 22. Andrew Smith, 23. Isaac Thompson.

Crusaders team: 1. Joe Moody, 2. Ben Funnell, 3. Owen Franks, 4. Scott Barrett, 5. Sam Whitelock, 6. Jordan Taufua, 7. Matt Todd, 8. Whetu Douglas, 9. Bryn Hall, 10. Richie Mo'unga, 11. George Bridge, 12. Ryan Crotty, 13. Jack Goodhue, 14. Seta Tamanivalu, 15. Israel Dagg. Reserves: 16. Codie Taylor, 17. Wyatt Crockett, 18. Michael Alaalatoa, 19. Luke Romano, 20. Pete Samu, 21. Ereatari Enari, 22. Mitchell Hunt, 23. David Havili.

Chris Dutton is the sports editor at The Canberra Times.

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