Another do-or-die match, another Reds video. They are making quite a habit of both, and this habit should serve them well. After the disastrous African tour and the hard welcome back the Force gave them, there has been very little room for anything less than a +1 in the W column for the Reds.
They have shown they are indomitable enough to do the job. Couple that to the fact that this could be the last time we see Higgers in red before he turns from the form hard-running and dynamic back-rower of Australian rugby into a lightweight seagull avoiding the tough stuff somewhere else.
The obvious change to the Reds team this week is at fly-half with Quade Cooper being suspended for a high tackle on Berrick Barnes in last week’s Templeton Cup match. Fortunately the Reds have honed their skills at replacing 10s so should cope OK.
Reds coach Ewen McKenzie has announced his team (late, c’mon Link…), and as expected Ben Lucas has been promoted from the bench into the 10 jersey. Unlike earlier in the year, injuries have been kind to the Reds and this is the only change to the team that defeated the Waratahs.
Lucas was the starting 10 when the Reds were leading the Sharks 17-0, before going on to lose by 4, earlier in the season (Lucas and Harris did hamstring injuries within minutes of each other). He was also there playmaking the Reds to victories over the Chiefs and Blues, and when the Reds went down to the Crusaders in the last 10 minutes. I suspect that for all the talk of Cooper appeals, Link would have been hard at work with this lineup so they will be well prepared.
Unlike the Reds, Sharks coach John Plumtree announced his team very early. There are a few changes, some for the better and some for the worse, to the team that beat the Cheetahs last week.
Up front, Willem Alberts gets a start after coming from the bench last week. Alberts, traditionally a back-rower, slips into the lock position. Plumtree is obviously trying to keep the well oiled back row from the weekend intact. They did all get meat pies, after all. Replacing Alberts on the bench is Steven Sykes, back from injury. In the front row, ‘Beast’ Tendai Mtawarira and Bismarck du Plessis join the starting line-up — the Beast back from a bout of gastro and Bismark fresh from a 44-minute run off the bench last week.
In the backs, there are two changes. This is where the news isn’t so good. Frans Steyn is unable to play as he doesn’t qualify for the finals having returned from France late and not getting enough regular season games under his belt. Frans is replaced by Tim Whitehead shifting to inside centre and Paul Jordaan slots in at outside centre. The other blow is Louis Ludik replacing Pat Lambie at fullback; the latter drops out after twingeing the ankle injured against England during the Test window.
Reds: 1. Greg Holmes, 2. Saia Faingaa, 3. James Slipper, 4. Rob Simmons, 5. Adam Wallace-Harrison (vc), 6. Jake Schatz, 7. Liam Gill, 8. Scott Higginbotham, 9. Will Genia (c), 10. Ben Lucas, 11. Digby Ioane, 12. Mike Harris, 13. Anthony Faingaa, 14. Dom Shipperley, 15. Luke Morahan. Reserves: 16. James Hanson, 17. Ben Daley, 18. Radike Samo, 19. Jarrad Butler, 20. Beau Robinson, 21. Nick Frisby, 22. Ben Tapuai.
Sharks: 1. Tendai Mtawarira, 2. Bismarck du Plessis, 3. Jannie du Plessis, 4. Willem Alberts, 5. Anton Bresler, 6. Keegan Daniel (c), 7. Marcell Coetzee, 8. Ryan Kankowski, 9. Charl McLeod, 10. Frederic Michalak, 11. Lwazi Mvovo, 12. Tim Whitehead, 13. Paul Jordaan, 14. JP Pietersen, 15. Louis Ludik. Reserves: 16. Craig Burden, 17. Wiehahn Herbst, 18. Steven Sykes, 19. Jacques Botes, 20. Cobus Reinach, 21. Meyer Bosman, 22. Odwa Ndungane.
Saturday, 21 July
Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane, Australia
Kick-off: 1940 AEST, 2140 NZT, 1140SAT, 0940 GMT)
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan
Assistants: Craig Joubert and James Leckie
TMO: Matt Goddard
I have looked at it and I have real trouble seeing how the Reds won’t win this one. Obviously the Sharks are a good team and can definitely win this, but I don’t think this Reds team will let it happen. I was heartened to see G&GR’s own supercoach agree in his G&GR Whiteboard post. Unlike Scott, however, I will not be so conservative. Scott tipped the Reds by 10; I am saying Reds by 11, such is my faith.