The Reds will be totally friendless this weekend, travelling to the end of the earth to play the mullet-headed pagans of Otago. This game has all the signs of ‘train wreck’ for the Reds, who have never beaten the Highlanders in Nu Zulund, and have not won a game outside of Qld since beating the now extinct, Cats, at Jo’burg almost three years ago.
Coach Phil Mooney has brought back Wallabies Marcia Hynes and Spuddie Holmes as well as including Brando Va’aulu, Otago old-boy, Ezra Taylor and academy player and Australian 7’s winger, Luke Morahan, on the bench.
Van Humphries sits out this week while Leroy and Ben Daley are shunted to the bench. Predictably, both Rod Davis and Blair Connor, have been left at home to lick their substantial wounds after being found out-of-their-depth over consecutive weekends and Ben Lucas has withdrawn through injury so Brendan McKibbin finally gets his chance at a start.
The Reds have been belted at the breakdown in the last two weeks, so the inclusion of Taylor and Higgers in the run on team at least gives the back-row a much needed injection of pace and hopefully will provide some assistance to Daniel Braid, who has basically played a lone hand for the last fortnight.
The forward pack is the strongest the Reds have fielded this season but it is not an area where they can claim an advantage.
The no-nonsense Highlanders’ forwards absolutely monstered the Bulls at their last start so they will fancy doing the same to the re-vamped Reds’ pack. This task will be made easier should Sean Hardman’s dodgy knee not hold up to the strain as his back-up, Saia Faingaa, has proven himself not to be up to Super 14 level.
Both Barnes and Cooper have been well off the pace in the last two games however it is unclear whether that was the cause, or a symptom, of the Reds horror run. They will gain confidence this week with a stronger pack in front of them and more experience behind them – is it a coincidence that the Reds’ decline coincided with Marcia’s absence?
New half-back, McKibbin, will add zip and zest from the base of the scrum after two weeks of the injured Lucas offering none, and this change might help find the Reds backs some space.
There has not been one redeeming feature of the Reds play for the last fortnight so it is hard to pick one area where they need to improve on but clearly, both Cooper and Barnes, have kicked like three-legged donkeys, so if this can be rectified, maybe the Reds might be able to put some pressure on the Highlanders.
For the Highlanders, they are a team on the rise with Cowan, Dagg and Daniel Bowden being the stand-outs, while behemoths, Newland and Mackintosh, provide a rock solid set-piece. They are a team that seems to be able to adapt to different situations and change their game plan, as opposed to the ‘all the eggs in one basket’ approach of the Reds.
The only question mark over the Highlanders (apart from the atrocious state of their coiffure) will be whether the ‘bye’ might have a negative affect on the team after such a great win the game previous.
I spoke to former Wallaby and Reds outside centre, Daniel Herbert, during the week and asked him jokingly if he was going to lace up the boots and give the Reds a hand this weekend.
His reply was simple – “Not a chance, mate!”
For me, that sums up the Reds’ hopes of a win this week, “Not a chance, mate!”
Cote says – Highlanders by 12