And So It Begins (A Week After Everyone Else) - Green and Gold Rugby
Queensland Reds

And So It Begins (A Week After Everyone Else)

And So It Begins (A Week After Everyone Else)

Super Rugby is back. Well, technically it was back last week. For Red’s fans however, it all starts here. After an off-season where Brad Thorn jettisoned the last players who did not fit “the culture”, it is time to see how the 2019 edition fares. The first challenge is a tough one, against a Highlanders team with the wind in their sails following an impressive come from behind victory against a Chiefs outfit that had a man advantage.  So let’s dive into the preview of the game to see how things shape up.


This is perhaps the one time of the season where I can honestly say that form might not matter at all. The Reds come into the game off the back of two trials, both losses (to the Rebels and Chiefs), while the Highlanders are one from one, with a 30-27 win over a Chiefs side markedly different to the one that played the Reds the week before. Most interesting in the ‘Landers win was their ability to come back and win despite having only 14 men for the last fifteen or so minutes. It was perhaps as much about the Chiefs taking the foot off the throat but you have to wonder how an Australian team would have fared in the same position.

As much as this type of thing means anything, there have been some relatively close games between the two sides with the last Reds win being in April 2016, which is the last time they beat an NZ team. The Highlanders are a force to be reckoned with at home, going 7 for 7 in 2018. Technically they lost a home game to the Crusaders, but that was the game played in Suva.

2018 produced an 18-15 win to the Highlanders, a late Lima Sopoaga penalty breaking the deadlock in a game the Reds perhaps should have won.

Angus Blyth Reds v Chiefs trial 2019 (photo credit: QRU Media/Brendan Hertel)

Reds forwards need to step up big time this weekend (photo credit: QRU Media/Brendan Hertel)


The Reds have named an interesting lineup for their first official hit out. Many of the key pieces from the 2018 squad return with a few notable exceptions. There is no room in the matchday 23 for either Scott Higginbotham or Filipo Daugunu. Higginbotham has essentially made way for Fraser McReight to debut off the bench and Daugunu has been lost in the shuffle of the outside backs.

There are debuts or potential debuts for 2019 good news story Feao Fotuaika starting at loose-head, and Fraser McReight and Isaac Lucas off the bench. 2019 recruits Bryce Hegarty and Sefa Naivalu get the nod at fullback and wing respectively.

It seems the monster ball approach of the trial has been dispensed with, with Jordan Petaia bringing better passing to the 13 spot in a swap with Chris Feauai-Sautia. Look for Duncan Paia’aua off the bench to slot in, especially if Hamish Stewart struggles being the sole attack creator.


The Highlanders have put a very strong team out on the park for this game, after working a few players back via limited minutes against the Chiefs. All Blacks Aaron Smith, Shannon Frizell and Waisake Naholo come into the starting 15, along with regular 7 Dillon Hunt.

The bench looks strong too, with the likes of Matt Faddes and Marty Banks looking for their chances in the back end of proceedings.

The pressure of Aaron Smith's game is an important part of the 'Landers plan.

The pressure of Aaron Smith’s game is an important part of the ‘Landers plan.


Moses Sorovi/Tate McDermott v Aaron Smith – I see the Red’s halfback being a bit of a two-headed monster in 2019 with both players offering different elements. Aaron Smith was superb in his 34 minute cameo last week, shepherding the Highlanders to a win. How this plays out and whether Smith wins the mind game will determine the quality of ball to the Reds backs.

Liam Wright v Dillon Hunt – The Reds as a unit struggled against the Chiefs both in disrupting their ball and in their attacking breakdown accuracy. They will need to be much better against the backrow of the Highlanders, and Wright has to step up. With the loss of George Smith and the failure to sign rumour mill specials Sean McMahon and Liam Gill, it may be the only weak link in the Reds pack. If they are to be a chance, Stewart needs good ball and pressure needs to be applied to the ‘Landers.

Hamish Stewart v Josh Ioane- This is a real test for both players. Clearly, this is now Hamish Stewart’s spot to grasp for his own and the next 100 games if he wants it. Off-season moves by Brad Thorn proved that much. Josh Ioane steps up into a full time role with the departure of Lima Sopoaga. Ione played well last week, and went 6 for 6 with the boot and has the veteran head of Smith inside him. Look for the measured play of Stewart against the more livewire activity of Ioane to be a highlight.

This is Hamish Stewart's team to lead now.

This is Hamish Stewart’s team to lead now.


The fact that it is a home game is enough to make me tip the Highlanders. Add in the fact that they have played a game already and the Red’s dire record against NZ teams and as much as I would like it to be an upset, I don’t see it. The bench quality of the Highlanders adds to the equation.

Highlanders by 9.



15 Ben Smith (co-capt)
14 Waisake Naholo
13 Rob Thompson
12 Teihorangi Walden
11 Tevita Li
10 Josh Ioane
9 Ben Smith
8 Luke Whitelock (co-capt)
7 Dillon Hunt
6 Shannon Frizzell
5 Josh Dickson
4 Jackson Hemopo
3 Tyrel Lomax
2 Liam Coltman
1 Ayden Johnston


16 Ash Dickson
17 Daniel Lienert-Brown
18 Siate Tokolahi
19 Jack Whetton
20 Marino Mikele-Tu’u
21 Kayne Hammington
22 Marty Banks
23 Matt Faddes


15 Bryce Hegarty
14 Chris Feauai-Sautia
13 Jordan Petaia
12 Samu Kerevi (c)
11 Sefa Naivalu
10 Hamish Stewart
9 Moses Sorovi
8 Caleb Timu
7 Liam Wright
6 Angus Scott-Young
5 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto
4 Izack Rodda
3 Taniela Tupou
2 Brandon Paenga-Amosa
1 Feao Fotuaika


16 Alex Mafi
17 Harry Hoopert
18 Ruan Smith
19 Harry Hockings
20 Fraser McReight
21 Tate McDermott
22 Duncan Paia’aua
23 Isaac Lucas

Match DetailsDate: Friday 22 February 2019Venue: Forsythe-Barr Stadium, DunedinKick-off: 19:35 local, 16:35 AESTReferee: Federico Anselmi (ARG)Assistant referees: Nick Briant (NZ), James Doleman (NZ)

Television match official:  Glenn “Newman” Newman (New Zealand)


  • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

    Higginbotham is injured I hear.

    Daugunu not being there is plain stupid in my opinion. Despite his defensive issues, the attack that he brings more than makes up for it. However, I will wait before criticising Thorn for that as potentially having Hegarty at the back will lessen the need for another genius attacking winger.

    Otherwise, think it is a pretty good Reds side in most spots. Hope they do well.

    • Mart

      Super Sefa probably makes up for Daungunu. It’s a pretty solid side, interesting to see how they go

      • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

        Sefa is a fast runner, but he doesn’t have the skills or elusiveness of Daugunu.

        • John Tynan

          And defensively, I reckon you can’t have Filipo and Sefa on at the same time.

        • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

          Sefa is a good defender though, and especially for a wing? He’s played 13 in the last.

        • John Tynan

          I’ll have to have another look. The Chiefs trial saw him out of position and falling off a couple.

        • GO THE Q REDS

          Probably need a bigger sample base for an assessment then that lol

        • John Tynan

          Saw more of what I thought, on the weekend. Comes in off his wing too early, might get a big hit every now and then but can’t finish it off, fell off a couple. Don’t get me wrong, he’s not the worst defending winger in Australia.

        • Simon

          The elusiveness perhaps doesn’t count for as much against the excellent defence the Kiwi teams bring, though. He’d be unlikely to see the ball much at all, except jammed into the 5m line with no options in front of him. And the defensive frailties are magnified against Kiwi teams too, particularly marking wingers like Naholo and Tevita Li.

          I’d play him against any non-Kiwi team I think (and he’d be first player picked against the Sunwolves), but I do wonder if the calculus slips into a net negative for him in this game. Thorn may be thinking he wants a bigger body and better tackling technique here to try and neutralise the Highlanders’ wingers and then try and beat them up front.

          Or maybe CFS just impressed him more, I guess!

        • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

          But he was awesome in attack last year? Consistently made meters and beat defenders. He was great in attack, but poor in defence.

        • idiot savant

          This is sad but true Simon. The game is not as exciting to watch without flying elusive wingers like Bryan Habana or Chester Williams. Its a function of the development of the game whereby rucks have very few committed players and it can often turn into rugby league style bash fests where nobody has room to move.

    • RugbyReg

      Higgers ‘has a niggle’ apparently…

      I love Daugunu and would always pick him in my side, ahead of CFS for sure, but I guess I can understand the decision.

      • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

        I’m just not quite sure how he doesn’t at least make the bench.

  • Bernie Chan

    Happy to see Petaia get a starting spot, though the backs are a bit light on playmakers. Still hoping CFS makes the extra step forward to fulfilling his potential…The bench seems a bit odd in terms of the backs…DPA can cover 10/12 but isn’t Isaac Lucas purely a flyhalf? Who’s the outside back cover…? Decent starting forward pack, but as the author noted…Liam Wright will be under pressure as the #7 to slow the Highlander ruck ball.
    BTW..has Ready been discarded entirely by the Reds…?

    • Huw Tindall

      Been very little chat about Petaia in the trials. Played on the wing in one game IIRC but got bugger all ball. Based on last year he was in the Tom Banks mold of potentially next big thing. Will be interesting to see how he kicks on in his second year.

      • Bernie Chan

        And will CFS nail down a particular spot as he has been #13 or winger (and most agree defending the #13 channel is very challenging)….seems to me that Daugunu at this stage is a better pure winger? The lack of an outside back (does BT think DPA can cover that…or will Petaia shift out/CFS shift in if an injury occurs?) concerns me. I think you are right in that Petaia was considered the “next big thing” but BT has barely used him…

        • Huw Tindall

          I don’t follow the Reds closely enough to really have a strong opinion here but Daugunu seems like one of those players who will struggle in the literally bigger and tougher environment of top flight rugby. His size and defensive deficiencies aren’t as obvious at lower levels so gets away with it. By comparison I believe Beale is the same. Gets away with it at Super level but too much of a liability at Test level. With the modern game and the power and size in Test rugby there is nowhere to hide. Unfortunate and I think there is another argument about trying to bring speed and skill back to the fore by limiting reserves to like 4 changes but that’s another story altogether.

        • Simon

          Yeah I agree about Daugunu. He excels at NRC where the game is much more open, but in Super Rugby defences are much more effective and he’s got bigger bodies coming at him so both his attack and defence are exposed.
          For him to really smash it at Super level requires a game plan with lots of broken play, which the Reds don’t have. On the rare moments he did get a run in broken play last season he was very effective, but the Reds probably aren’t his team. He might do better switching to League where the game is much faster without stoppages every couple of minutes for the bigger boys to get their breath back!

      • GO THE Q REDS

        Yep and THATS why I feel bad for Super Sefa. Awesome player but will sink into oblivion at the Reds….never to be seen in gold aggain

    • idiot savant

      I think they will shuffle the starting players to outside back roles if needed. DPA and Lucas will cover 10,12, 15.

    • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

      Does a team really need more than two playmakers? They have a flyhalf at 10 and another flyhalf at fullback.

      When was the last time a good team had a playmaker at 12?

      What’s the best team in the world? The All Blacks, who play Crotty or SBW at 12, neither of whom are playmakers.

      In the last World Cup cycle the All Blacks were the best team in the world, who played Nonu at 12 – not a playmaker.

      Before that, it was the Boks who played De Villiers at 12 – not a playmaker.

      The best two sides in super rugby over recent years have been the Crusaders and Hurricanes, who play Laumape and Crotty at 12 – not playmakers.

      England and Ireland are the best NH sides, who play Tuilagi and Henshaw or that other big bloke – not playmakers.

      • idiot savant

        Interesting points DB. I guess not having a playmaker at 12 means that there has to be a really well coached game plan involving both forwards and backs to ensure quick recycles that can stress the defence. I think we saw a bit of this from the Rebels against your side. Without that the outside backs see a lot less action and there are far less options – cut out passes, inside passes, chips, grubbers , cross kicks etc. I suspect the Reds backrow is a tad too slow to make a quick recycle game plan work but we shall see.

        • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

          I think a playmaker at 12 actually may make it more difficult to attack these days.

          Modern defences are so good, and having a playmaker at 12 just makes you so lateral.

      • Brendan Hume

        That’s an excellent point and my read on this team isn’t that they lack playmakers per se, but rather they lack creativity. The teams you mentioned with a 12 that tends to ball running generally have had outstanding 10’s and 15’s or wingers who know when and where to get involved. The Reds can tend to be pretty one-dimensional and will require more touches from the outside backs early in plays to give them room to utilise these strong ball carriers.

        • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

          I think Hegarty is a quality player, who will solve a lot of those issues if allowed to play his natural game.

          Question is, will Thorn’s coaching allow it?

        • GO THE Q REDS

          Think we know that answer. …

      • GO THE Q REDS

        Yep but how else do you account for picking 10s who aren’t good “playmakers”. (Foley Beale Stewart) Gotta get the 12 to do it…..doesnt seem very bright

    • RugbyReg

      Lucas is probably ultimately a 10, but has played fullback and 12 at least, and I think even 13 at club level? A super talent. And with the ability of Petaia, Stewart, Duncan, CFS to play a few positions it opens up options.

    • Hoss

      Ready is now with the Force mate – cut by the Reds.

  • Huw Tindall

    Thanks for the write up Ben! Always appreciate the efforts of the GAGR writers taking time out of their day jobs!

    About the game though. The Highlanders will miss Sopoanga at 10 this year and that was shown last week, despite the win over the Chiefs. His tactical kicking was such a big part of their game last year. But with the Smiths in the side I think they’ll have too much attacking class for the Reds who still seemed a bit leaky on defense in the trials. They should do the Highlanders in the tight 5 but backrow probably in favour of the Highlanders so combined with their more established backline I think that’s pretty much game for the Dunedin locals. Yes the Reds could surprise but on paper and on limited form I think it’s sadly another win to the Kiwis.

  • idiot savant

    Thanks Ben. It will be fascinating to see how the Thorn approach evolves. I thought the main things that needed fixing last year were: quick and secure provision of the ball from attacking breakdown, speed of ball movement to the flanks, the line out, and defence particularly when stretched wide needing cover.

    Thorn is the line out coach and he took one of the best line outs in the competition under Stiles to one of the worst last season. Lets hope he has picked up his game there. When you have a game strategy built around a penalty machine scrum and the huge boot of Stewart, the line out becomes the important piece of the puzzle to get reward from that strategy.

    The speed of ball movement was half fixed last year when Lucas and Lance were replaced by Sorovi/McDermott and Stewart. So the halves can move it quickly. The big grammar test now will be if Kerevi can stop adding the full stop to the backline sentence he did last year.

    My biggest concern remains the lack of speed of foot particularly in the pack. These are big guys and the back row lacks real speed as well. That will affect securing attacking breakdown quickly and in defence it makes the side vulnerable in the last 15 minutes of the first half and then again before the bench comes on. Look out for when the kiwis go up a gear as fatigue sets in and they move the reds big forwards around.

    Gonna be interesting viewing.

  • disqus_NMX

    Trials form might not mean much, but I bet BT was fuming that his happy clappers lost to QC’s team ha ha

    • RugbyReg

      who are the happy clappers?

      • disqus_NMX

        happy clapper = god botherer

  • John Tynan

    Thanks Ben. As discussed, I had ‘Landers by 10, with pressure on Stewart and lack of defensive breakdown pressure the big components.
    I like Petaia in the centres over CFS, but not sure on pushing him to a wing.
    Surprised to see Moses over McDermott, thought it might have been the other way around.
    I am interested to see how much Hegarty chimes in from fullback – if they get this right and both Stewart and he know how to interact (ie not a repeat of Foley/QC tripping over each other) then this could be the balance needed to shift pressure off Stewart.
    I’m not sure the balance on the bench is right, and it certainly doesn’t provide any insight or clarity on strategy? a halfback, a small outside back and a smallish inside back in a 5/3 split? If Kerevi goes down, not sure how the pieces fit, and the forwards don’t fit an up-tempo game if you bring the little blokes on?

    • Jason

      I like Petaia in the centres over CFS, but not sure on pushing him to a wing.

      I do think Daugunu is being told he’s gotta earn the jersey and gotta take it off CFS.

  • Khun Pugwash

    Thanks for the write up. Can’t help but feel we are going to get pumped but hoping the Reds get up anyway!

  • Adrian

    Thanks Ben

    Big boys alright.

    I am sad that Duagunu isn’t in 23 and Duncan P isn’t in the 15.

    I hope Stewart functions as a 5/8, and that the new attack coach organises links to the backs from the pack.

    There are potentially about 8 Wallabies here, so we need to see them.

    Unfortunately, I’m tipping a 15-20 point loss, but I really hope I am wrong


      I’d be blown away if it’s not 20pt loss minimum…

      • Adrian

        Bookies said 20.5 last I looked

  • Chris

    Is JP Smith Injured?

    • John Tynan

      I don’t know, but at the Chiefs trial he did look like he had broken into a bakery and eaten all the pies.

      • Chris

        Sounds like a prop diet.

        Hope it’s not that type of poor discipline. The Boerwurst they get do look good though.

  • Brendan Hume

    Has Lukhan Tui changed his name? If so, great to see him back on the park in the spot he should be – Lock. These blokes could be the Wallaby 4 & 5 this year with a strong season. If Jim McKay can’t unlock the back line, I can’t see the Reds upsetting too many teams this year, but they should be solid and have a good platform.


      Well I can’t see Hamish Stewart being the one too unlock the back line. Can you think of one half decent combination with any player he has with at the Reds? He mostly contributes with the odd sniping hit up… . the odd spiral kick to touch and the inevitable ruckball turnover attempt that leaves him concussed. Hmmmm

      • RugbyReg

        has he been concussed?

        He was linking very well in the last trial I though.

    • John Tynan

      Yeah mate. Took his step-dad’s family name as a mark of respect last year.

  • scott

    OK, game finished, Highlanders win. As a Kiwi watching that game, this is my opinion. The only reason the Reds lost the game is the same reason a lot of teams lose, Super rugby, international, etc etc. When the Reds had the ball, and even when they were pretty deep in Highlanders territory, they decided that it was a good idea to kick aimlessly and give the Highlanders the ball back so then instead of being on attack, they could play defensive rugby 10, 30 or 40 metres back from where they kicked the ball? It is so boring to listen to the commentators say over and over again, “that was poor kick? This seems to happen in a lot of games and it is so frustrating to see a team who should have won, but decided, “no, we don’t want the ball, lets give it back to the opposition so we can panic and have some tackling practice right on our own goal line!!! Do the coaches not see this happening when 8 out of ten kicks are total F*&* ups? Don’t they replay the game later and say to the guilty players, What the f%$K did you do that for you idiot? You forwards who have worked so hard for that possession can punch this ball waster in the……!

Queensland Reds

Passionate about rugby from the grass roots up. Usually found at Brisbane club rugby games, or being involved in the junior and schools system. Love a chat, happy to admit when I'm wrong. I will watch any game of rugby regardless of who is playing, from juniors through to tests

More in Queensland Reds