After dropping season defining games against the Rebels and the Waratahs in the last two weeks, games that could have propelled them into the finals, the Reds now face a much tougher opponent. The Chiefs in Hamilton. With this being the match that had been identified for some time as Samu Kerevi’s rostered game off, a victory was always going to be unlikely. Throw in an injury to Chris Feauai-Sautia on the back of Jordan Petaia, Jack Hardy, Filipo Daugunu and Hamish Stewart, on top of the unavailability of Isaac Lucas, then things are looking rough this Friday night.
Seb Wileman, previously from the Warringah club in Sydney and now playing some damn good rugby for Brothers in Brisbane, gets his first Super Rugby start in the not unlucky at all 13 jersey. He forms a completely new centre combination with Duncan Paia’aua getting a rare start, and a chance to farwell the Queensland jersey in style before he departs for France later this year.
The pack remains relatively consistent with Harry Hoopert back in the #1 jersey. There’s a lot happening on the bench, though, with Adam Kowczyk looking for his first run for the season. Meanwhile we have potential debuts for back-up Scott Malolua and the versatile Liam McNamara.
The Chiefs are resting their All Blacks Angus Ta’avao (sorry, but that combination of words still seems strange to me) and Anton Lienert-Brown both out. Already without regular test stars Brodie Retallick and Damian McKenzie perhaps the Reds can have a sniff in this game? They do have Sam Cane back starting, albeit at blindside, or at least in the 6 jersey.
Chiefs: Solomon Alaimalo, Shaun Stevenson, Tumua Manu, Alex Nankivell, Etene Nanai-Seturo, Marty McKenzie, Brad Weber; Pita Gus Sowakula, Lachlan Boshier, Sam Cane (c), Tyler Ardron, Jesse Parete, Nepo Laulala, Nathan Harris, Atu Moli Reserves: Samisoni Taukei’aho, Aidan Ross, Sosefo Kautai, Daymon Leasuasu, Mitchell Karpik, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Jack Debreczeni, Sean Wainui
Reds: Matt McGahan, Jock Campbell, Seb Wileman, Duncan Paia’aua, Sefa Naivalu, Bryce Hegarty, Tate McDermott, Angus Scott-Young, Liam Wright, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Angus Blyth, Izack Rodda (c), Taniela Tupou, Alex Mafi, Harry Hoopert Reserves: Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Feao Fotuaika, Ruan Smith, Adam Korczyk, Scott Higginbotham, Scott Malolua, Teti Tela, Liam McNamara
The Packs – The one consistency the Reds have is their pack. With injuries inhibiting the seasons of gun backs Petaia, Daugunu, Stewart, Tuttle, Feauaia-Sautia, Hardy on top of the unavailability of Samu Kerevi and Isaac Lucas for Australian duties, the backline has struggled to remain consistent. No so much in the pack with Harry Hockings’ red card and suspension the only real selection challenge for Brad Thorn. This week’s pack is pretty much as strong as it comes for the Reds, with only Hockings and JP Smith (head knock) unavailable. The Chiefs are without a some key players, notably Retallick. If the visitors are going to get one up on their opponents, it will be through the forwards.
OPTA TOP STATS
- The Chiefs have won their last four Super Rugby matches on the bounce against the Reds, neither side has managed to win more consecutive games in the history of this fixture.
- The Reds have won three of their last four Super Rugby games in New Zealand against the Chiefs (L1), losing the most recent fixture by a record margin in such fixtures (29 pts).
- The Chiefs have won only two of their six games on home soil in Super Rugby 2019 (D1, L3), despite leading at half-time on four occasions in that’s pan.
- The Reds have made an average of just seven offloads per game this Super Rugby season, fewer than any other team in the competition and five per game fewer than the category-leading Chiefs (12).
- Anton Lienert-Brown (Chiefs) has made a league-high 28 offloads this Super Rugby campaign; while only the Reds’ Samu Kerevi (53) has beaten more defenders than Lienert-Brown (48)
The Chiefs have probably had a more disappointing season than the Reds, but I expect them to pull out the win this weekend. The changes too the Reds are too dramatic to not have an influence on the outcome. Chiefs by 11.
Friday 24 May @ 19:35 local time
FMG Stadium, Hamilton
Referee: Angus Gardner
Assistant Referees: Ben O’Keefe & Dan Waenga
TMO: Glenn Newman
Weather Forecast: 11 degrees, partly cloudy, light winds