These are unusual times in Queensland as Reds fans, somewhat discretely, are starting to feel a little positive about where their team is at. Yeah, ok, so they are still sitting second bottom on the conference ladder but they are just six points away from the Rebels on top.
With some tough games coming up for the other Aussie sides this weekend, who knows where the conference ladder will land come Sunday morning. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves and focus on this Friday night when the Reds host the bottom of the ladder Sunwolves.
- The Reds have won three of their four Super Rugby clashes with the Sunwolves, a 28-63 loss in May 2018 representing their only defeat in that run.
- The Reds’ last seven home games have all been decided by double figure margins, with the Queensland side winning four and losing three in that spell.
- The Sunwolves have won two of their four away games this season (L2),this after losing their initial 23 games on the road in Super Rugby.
- The Sunwolves enjoy a goal kicking success rate of 95% in Super Rugby 2019, the best of any team in the competition and 14 percentage points greater than that of the Reds.
- Samu Kerevi (Reds) has beaten 40 defenders in Super Rugby 2019, the most of any player and seven more than Sunwolves’ best Semisi Masirewa (33).
The Sunwolves have only won the two games this year with their first coming in Round 3 against the Chiefs. A series of close losses was eventually ended in Round 7 when they defeated the Waratahs however they haven’t managed a win since. In fact they’ve suffered a couple of big losses with the Rebels putting 40 on them in Round 8 and then the Highlanders slamming them 52-0 last week.
The Reds are coming off a bye following their return from their South Africa trip where they managed a win and a loss outcome. After a mixed start to the season, with losses in their first two games, the Reds have now won four of their last six games – a ‘streak’ that commenced with a hard fought win over the Sunwolves in Tokyo back in Round 5.
University of Queensland winger, Jock Campbell, will make his run on debut for the Reds on Friday night following some good touches from the bench in South Africa. While he gets his chance through injuries to Jordan Petaia, Filipo Daugunu and Jack Hardy, Campbell has produced some excellent performances in QLD Premier Rugby and the NRC. Seb Wileman, a late addition to the Reds squad from the Warringah Rats, gets a bench spot with a chance to make his Super Rugby debut. Otherwise the team is as per it was when they defeated the Sharks a couple of weeks ago.
As for the Sunwolves, well they’ve made so many changes it is difficult to track. Of note, the experienced Shota Horie is back in the side at hooker, while Rahboni Warren-Vosayaco switches from inside centre back to the backrow with Jason Emery back in the centres. Former Red Hendrick Tui will line up at blindside flanker with former Queensland schoolboy Ben Gunter on the bench.
KEY MATCH UPS
Naivalu v Masirewa
Fijian-born, New Zealand educated, former Force player Masirewa has been highlight regular for the Sunwolves this season. He’s sitting towards the top of the tournament try scorer’s list with seven tries in his nine games. Naivalau, meanwhile, has only crossed the line once for the Reds so far but has been a standout all year. The hard running winger, supposedly the fastest in Australia, has shown his physicality and off-loading ability in combining with the likes of Samu Kerevi and Chris Feauai-Sautia. His time with the Reds may only be a short one, but it’s been an impressive one so far.
Horie v Mafi
Just coincidentally we have another former Rebel here with Shota Horie having played for the Melbourne team on 18 occasions. The 58 capped test player for the Cherry Blossoms brings an important and experienced edge to the Sunwolves team against the ‘young Reds team’ ©. Meanwhile the form of Alex Mafi has seen him leadfrog last year’s Wallaby Brandon Paenga-Amosa on the back of the impact he brings to the game away from the set piece. If he can find consistency with his throwing then a Wallaby cap won’t be far away.
REDS (15-1): Hamish Stewart, Jock Campbell, Chris Feauai-Sautia, Samu Kerevi (c), Sefa Naivalu, Bryce Hegarty, Tate McDermott, Scott Higginbotham, Liam Wright, Angus Scott-Young, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Izack Rodda, Taniela Tupou, Alex Mafi, Harry Hoopert
Reserves: Brandon Paenga-Amosa, JP Smith, Ruan Smith, Harry Hockings, Adam Korczyk, Moses Sorovi, Duncan Paia’aua, Seb Wileman
SUNWOLVES (15-1): Ryohei Yamanaka, Gerhard van den Heever, Jason Emery, Phil Burleigh, Semisi Masirewa, Hayden Parker, Keito Shigeno, Rahboni Warren-Vosayaco, Kara Pryor, Hendrik Tui, Luke Thompson (c), Grant Hattingh, Hiroshi Yamashita, Shota Horie, Masataka Mikami
Reserves: Nathan Vella, Pauliasi Manu, Takuma Asahara, Tom Rowe, Ben Gunter, Jamie Booth, Yu Tamura, Jamie Henry
These Reds are a tough team to pick. It makes complete sense to pick them to win this one by a decent margin but you can never tell which team will turn up. They’ve drawn so many ‘lines in the sand’ this season there’s serious erosion fears around Ballymore. If it was any team rather than the Sunwolves, though, I’d be worried. Reds by 22.