ACT Brumbies coach Dan McKellar has backed Ollie Sapsford to make a seamless transition into the team's starting lineup for Saturday's must-win clash with the Auckland Blues.
The 26-year-old will step into the No. 13 jumper after Len Ikitau was handed a three-game suspension at a judiciary hearing on Tuesday night. The ban will be reduced to two matches upon completion of a high contact education program.
Sapsford provided a steady hand when injected into the action following Ikitau's red card in last week's quarter-final win over the Hurricanes and McKellar pointed to that performance as proof the centre will be up to the task at Eden Park this weekend.
"There's no unknowns (for Sapsford)," McKellar said. "He doesn't go into this game second guessing himself, he's well aware of what his role is within the team.
"He performed well last week for the best part of an hour, I think he's well prepared and ready to perform.
"He's just got to do the basics well. He's got to run hard, make his tackles, provide a good voice on both sides of the ball and just do his job. We don't need him to be the best player on the field, I just need him to do his job."
The Brumbies had nothing to lose when they opted to head to the judiciary to contest a dangerous contact charge against Ikitau.
Given the nature of the tackle and a number of rulings made throughout the season, club officials entered optimistic the centre would be free to play.
Instead, his Super Rugby Pacific campaign came to a sudden end.
It was a decision that left Ikitau gutted.
"He was shattered," McKellar said. "Really disappointed. He's never had a yellow card in his career, that includes his junior career, so to get a red card and then be ruled out of the two biggest games of the year is difficult to take.
"He's slept on it, he bounced in here this morning and he understands his role now is to help Ollie and the backs defensively, which is what he always does, and just help us prepare well."
Ikitau was sent off for the tackle in the 21st minute of Saturday's quarter-final win.
While the Brumbies had argued mitigating factors contributed to the high contact, the judiciary determined it worthy of a mid-range foul play charge.
"With respect to sanction, the Judicial Committee deemed the act of foul play merited a mid-range entry point of 6 matches given the nature of the foul play involving contact with the head," Judicial chair Stephen Hardy said.
"Taking into account mitigating factors, including the Player's remorse, exemplary judicial record to date, and conduct during the hearing, the Judicial Committee reduced the suspension by three matches."
Amid the disappointment of missing a semi-final, the ruling comes with a silver lining for Ikitau.
The centre is set to be available for Wallabies selection for the upcoming series against England.
Even if the Brumbies lose to the Blues on Saturday night, a two-match ban will see Ikitau free to play in the second and third Tests.
The centre is in Wallabies coach Dave Rennie's plans and it's expected he will be named in the Wallabies 36-man squad on Sunday.
"He knows he's got to park that (disappointment) now and move on with what's important next and that's helping us prepare to win a semi and then a grand final," McKellar said.
"In a few weeks time, it will be all forgotten about and he'll move on to being available for the Wallabies."
Auckland Blues v ACT Brumbies - Saturday at Eden Park, 5.05pm
Brumbies team: 1. James Slipper, 2. Folau Fainga'a, 3. Allan Alaalatoa (C), 4. Darcy Swain, 5. Cadeyrn Neville, 6. Tom Hooper, 7. Pete Samu, 8. Rob Valetini, 9. Nic White, 10. Noah Lolesio, 11. Andy Muirhead, 12. Irae Simone, 13. Ollie Sapsford, 14. Tom Wright, 15. Tom Banks. Reserves: 16. Lachlan Lonergan, 17. Scott Sio, 18. Sefo Kautai, 19. Nick Frost, 20. Luke Reimer, 21. Jahrome Brown, 22. Ryan Lonergan 23. Hudson Creighton.
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