In case you hadn’t noticed rugby in Australia is going through a pretty rough trot at the moment. It makes it tough for even the most ardent of fans to stay positive. I know personally I have too easily fallen into the ‘negative Nelly’ trap. And it is easy. It’s easy just to furrow the brow and just ‘bah humbug’ everything – hell, I’ve seen people criticising Rugby Australia signing a Test Match sponsor for the first time in about five years.
So I am going to make an effort to spin this around. When the other code is promoting ‘State v State, Hate v Hate’ and their players are literally talking about killing each other, I’m flipping the nibble. Take me back to 1969 (quite possibly the last time Queensland beat NSW) and the Summer of Love, because this preview is nothing by good vibes dudes.
Both teams come into the game on the back of really encouraging losses to some tough New Zealand opposition. The Waratahs, after scoring a glorious victory the week before against the Highlanders, were so damn close to doing the same last week away from home against the Chiefs.
The Reds have also been trying really hard and managed to push the Hurricanes and then the Highlanders all the way over the last weeks getting to within a try of winning both games. It’s a really exciting time for Australian Rugby to see our teams playing some great rugby and pushing these wonderful New Zealand teams so hard.
With Queensland having won just one game in the last eight and NSW one in the last six, one of these lucky teams is going to enjoy some much sort-after post-game celebrations.
Big Brad Thorn has not been forced to make too many changes this week. The only alteration to the pack from last week is the return of the tough as nails (and former Waratah) Kane Douglas to the starting side in a straight swap with young Harry Hockings, who made his run on debut last week. In the backline we do see some more significant variation with Hamish Stewart and Jono Lance swapping jerseys and the live-wire Moses Sorovi starting at scrumhalf.
Waratah coach Daryl Gibson is obviously really happy with his team’s recent performances and has only made one change to last week’s outfit. The free-running Jed Holloway starts at lock as he swaps spots with the rugged Tom Staniforth. Holloway will likely look to range out wide to put pressure on the defensive channels that lie in and around Samu Kerevi.
Key Match Ups
Wallaby Match-Ups: One of the reasons this really is the ‘Festival of Love’ is because fans are going love watching some Wallaby match ups. At tight-head prop the old bull Sekope Kepu will go toe-to-toe with the young bull Taniela Tupou. While Allan Alaalatoa has his own claim to the Wallaby #3 jersey, Kepu v Tupou’s clash could well decide who starts v the Paddies next week. Likewise further out, the incumbent Tevita Kuridrani will face significant pressure from the two in-form 13s in Curtis Rona and Samu Kerevi.
Halves: On the one side we have two wonderful servants of Australian rugby and current Wallaby squad members in Bernard Foley and Nick Phipps. On the other we have two of the bright sparks of the game, a paring Reds fans have been crossing their fingers in hope to see selected, in Moses Sorovi and Hamish Stewart. This will be Sorovi’s first start for the Reds after a series of exciting cameos from the bench and it couldn’t have been a more exhilarating game to be a part of.
Line Out: Waratah fans may have been doubtful when they first heard that the team had signed Rob Simmons in the off-season, but the way he has sured up their previously misfiring line-out has won them over. Meanwhile, Queenslanders upset over Simmo’s departure have been placated by the form of Izack Rodda. Not only has he been a physical menace across the park, but his lineout work has been revelatory. The battle between these two skyscrapers on Saturday night will be as much about personal pride as team success. Lovely.
I predict a wonderful game of rugby played by two teams featuring some of the very best rugby players in Australia. Players who have a tremendous passion for the game and for their provincial team, but also for their friends on the other team. The game will be played with intensity and commitment, with plenty of superb skill to be showcased. There will be niggle and aggression but these brothers will walk off arm in arm after 80 minutes ready to take on those cocky Irish pricks at the same venue next week.
15 Jono Lance, 14 Izaia Perese, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Duncan Paia’aua, 11 Jordan Petaia, 10 Hamish Stewart, 9 Moses Sorovi, 8 Scott Higginbotham (c), 7 George Smith, 6 Angus Scott-Young, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 1 JP Smith. Replacements: 16 Alex Mafi, 17 Sef Fa’agase, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Harry Hockings, 20 Caleb Timu, 21 Liam Wright, 22 Ben Lucas, 23 Jayden Ngamanu
15. Israel Folau, 14. Cameron Clark, 13. Curtis Rona, 12. Kurtley Beale, 11. Taqele Naiyaravoro, 10. Bernard Foley, 9. Nick Phipps, 8. Michael Wells, 7. Michael Hooper (c), 6. Will Miller, 5. Rob Simmons, 4. Jed Holloway, 3. Sekope Kepu, 2. Damien Fitzpatrick, 1. Tom Robertson. Replacements: 16. Tolu Latu, 17. Harry Johnson-Holmes, 18. Shambeckler Vui, 19. Tom Staniforth, 20. Brad Wilkin, 21. Jake Gordon, 22. Lalakai Foketi, 23. Bryce Hegarty
Date: Saturday, 2 June 2018
Venue: Suncorp Stadium Brisbane
Kick-off: 19:35 Brisbane time
Referee: Angus Gardner
Assistant referees: Will Houston, Jordan Way
TMO: Damien Mitchelmore