Casting my mind back to the start of last season, there are some similarities to now. The first game of the year, against the force, was a close affair with a James Hanson try near the end sealing the win for the Reds. Similarly we saw some Dom Shipperley #Shipsanity (If you are on twitter, get it trending) sink the Tahs with a late try.
This weekend though, Link will be keen to avoid the banana skin that followed. Looking at the team lists it is hard to see them slipping up. He has made several changes to the team that won in the first round; most of them unforced injury changes.
UN-forced injury changes? What? Basically they could have played if it was the final, but Link has enough confidence in his squad to give the other members of the quad a run. This will allow the squad as a whole to maintain a level of match fitness, it will also allow niggles to heal and not turn into something more sinister. Great squad management in my opinion and certainly one of Link’s strengths, there isn’t a player in the squad that doesn’t think he is a chance to play.
In the forwards, James Hanson is replaced at hooker by converted prop Albert Anae in his first run on at hooker. Albert has been training as a hooker for well over a year and it is a great chance for him to show what he can do. Link mentioned at the team announcement that his conversion has been a strategic one, with Albert offering a different skill set to the other hookers in the squad.
The Back row also shuffles due to an injury tinge. Scott Higginbotham drops out after straining his Gluteus muscle, an injury that is said to be a real pain in the arse. He is replaced at Blindside by Jake Shatz who shifts from No.8 with Radike Samo promoted from the bench.
The back line gets a small change with Anthony Faingaa resting due to hamstring tightness. Ben Tapuai moves out one to Outside Centre with Inside Centre being filled by Jono Lance. Most people would know Jono as a fullback, but he was new to that position last year, most of his football has been played in the midfield. The new centre combination isn’t that new though, with Taps and Jono playing plenty of rugby there together, most recently in the TSS championship team of 2007. A team that was coached by Matt Taylor and included Luke Morahan, James Slipper and Rob Simmons. GAGR’s own super coach Scott Allen said in the forum “Jono is a good 10 but is an even better 12. When he’s played there for Uni he’s been really good”, so with that endorsement he should go alright. Rocket Rod Davies returns from resting to replace Jono on the Bench.
Looking at the visitors, it is hard to see them winning this, though they have the perfect team to restrict the Reds with their all-star back row seemingly built to disrupt recycled ball. The forward pack remains the same, the only change on the bench with Ben Whittaker coming in and replacing Elvis Taione. This will allow the hooker tag team (sounds more exciting than it is) that worked so well last year.
In the backs the only change is Winston Stanley moving in one to 12 with Patrick Dellit coming into 13 and Rory Sidey dropping to the bench. Ben Seymour is on the bench presumably as cover for flyhalf with Stannard able to cover 9 if needed.
QLD Reds: 1. Ben Daley 2. Albert Anae 3. James Slipper 4. Rob Simmons 5. James Horwill (c) 6. Jake Schatz 7. Beau Robinson 8. Radike Samo 9. Will Genia (vc) 10. Mike Harris 11. Digby Ioane 12. Jono Lance 13. Ben Tapuai 14. Dom Shipperley 15. Luke Morahan
Reserves: 16. James Hanson 17. Greg Holmes 18. Van Humphries 19. Eddie Quirk 20. Liam Gill 21. Ben Lucas 22. Rod Davies
Western Force: 1.Pek Cowan 2.Nathan Charles 3.Salesi Ma’afu 4.Toby Lynn 5.Nathan Sharpe 6.Matt Hodgson 7.David Pocock (c) 8.Ben McCalman 9.Brett Sheehan 10.James Stannard 11.Napolioni Nalaga 12.Winston Stanley 13.Patrick Dellit 14.Nick Cummins 15.Alfie Mafi
Reserves: 16.Ben Whittaker 17.Kieran Longbottom 18.Phoenix Battye 19.Angus Cottrell 20.Ben Seymour 21.Rory Sidey 22.Sam Wara
Referee is Glen Jackson. Assistant Referees are Ian Smith and Simon Moore with Steve Leszczynski the TMO
Update: Referee change, Glen Jackson tweaked a calf muscle at training yesterday (Thursday 1 March), and while relatively minor, he has been advised by medical teams that he should not run hard on it within a 48 hour period.
Saturday 3 March
Reds v Force, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Referee: Ian Smith
Assistant Referee: Simon Moore
Assistant Referee: Andrew Lees
TMO: Steve Leszczynski
Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane Saturday March 03 at 6:40PM (AEST)
It would be tempting to predict that this is going to be won in the back row, so I will. There has been plenty said about the strength that the back row is to the Force, but I think it stands out so much because there is less around it. The Reds back row has plenty of strength too, Jake Shatz is one of those blind sides that seem anonymous until you see the stats, he is just busy doing the dirty work. We all know Beau and it speaks volumes of the squad that the incumbent Wallaby No.8 is starting after a week on the bench. There is more than enough x-factor to go with the grind. They also have Ed “Earthquake” Quirk and Liam Gill to come on later in the game.
In the backs it is clear the Reds have more to offer there and if they can manage to hold on to the ball they will be able to convert it into points.
The force are no easy beats though, they are scrappers and what they lack in back line penetration they certainly make up for in an ability to prevent opposition teams from playing their own game, unfortunately I don’t think that will be enough this time.
The fearless prediction
Rumour has it that pine rider Van Humphries delivered a version of his famous pre-force-game speech last week in the sheds at ANZ stadium:
While I can’t see it being the 50-10 drubbing that occurred the last time Van so eloquently spoke the game plan, I do think the Reds will click in front of the Suncorp crowd and win by 25.