I’ve been there. I’ve stood exactly where the Brumbies fans are standing right now. Their team is performing better than their wildest dreams and they are riding a wave of optimism. Their team is bigger than the sum of its parts. The forward pack is a well-oiled machine and the backs are starting to find space. And for most of the Super Rugby season I’d be happy for them. But not this week.
My team, the Reds, is not bigger than its parts. It used to be, and we rode our wave of optimism to a premiership. Now I find myself standing where I haven’t for a long time: staring at a possible fourth straight defeat. Our forwards are not a well-oiled machine, our backs crueled by injury, our defensive system in tatters and our attack stuttering. I know the Reds will come good sometime this season; I only hope it’s sooner rather than later.
In the Reds’ favour is a return to Fortress Suncorp. The Stadium has been the difference on more than one occasion and in recent years its reputation has grown. Memberships have hit 30,164, ensuring a vocal crowd willing the team home. The return of Bright Young Man Aiden Toua will give the backline some much-needed spark. Liam Gill and Beau Robinson have been picked to start with Scott Higginbotham in the back row, giving the Reds a very on-ball style set of loosies.
But the Reds are also starting Sam Lane at flyhalf. Sam will be the fourth flyhalf to start for the Reds this year. Add to this the inclusion of Toua and Rod Davies and Luke Morahan swapping positions, and you get the fiftieth backline the Reds have trotted out this season. OK, I made that up. I have no idea how many backlines we have had this season. But I know it’s a lot.
In the Brumbies’ favour is that indefinable winning formula. They’re on a roll. Ben Mowen is leading them with fire and conviction. The team is fairly settled with a major battle for positions in the back row. The backline has looked dangerous in every game they have played.
But. Matt Toomua has broken down. Christian Lealiifano moves into the flyhalf spot and Pat McCabe has his first run at inside centre for the year. So what — McCabe is a Test centre, I hear you say. Yes he is, but he plays a completely different style to Lealiifano. Leeliifano is finesse and McCabe is force. It means the Brumbies have to change their style; this may work out and it may not.
Coach Jake White has opted for Ita Vaea in the No. 7 shirt instead of Michael Hooper. In contrast to the Reds’ on-ballers, the Brumbies are starting with a hard running backrow. The lack of a hard on-baller could starve the Brumbies of possession, perhaps allowing the Reds to play themselves into form.
|Ben Daley||1. Prop||Ben Alexander|
|James Hanson||2. Hooker||Stephen Moore|
|James Slipper||3. Prop||Dan Palmer|
|Rob Simmons||4. Lock||Leon Power|
|James Horwill (c)||5. Lock||Sam Carter|
|Beau Robinson||6. Flanker||Peter Kimlin|
|Liam Gill||7. Flanker||Ita Vaea|
|Scott Higginbotham||8. # Eight||Ben Mowen|
|Will Genia||9. Halfback||Nic White|
|Sam Lane||10. Fly Half||Christian Lealiifano|
|Rod Davies||11. Wing||Joe Tomane|
|Ben Tapuai||12. Inside Centre||Pat McCabe|
|Aidan Toua||13 Outside Centre||Andrew Smith|
|Dom Shipperley||14. Wing||Henry Speight|
|Luke Morahan||15. Fullback||Jesse Mogg|
|Albert Anae||16. Reserve||Anthony Hegarty|
|Greg Holmes||17. Reserve||Ruaidhri Murphy|
|Radike Samo||18. Reserve||Scott Fardy|
|Van Humphries||19. Reserve||Michael Hooper|
|Eddie Quirk||20. Reserve||Ian Prior|
|Nick Frisby||21. Reserve||Zack Holmes|
|Dallan Murphy||22. Reserve||Tevita Kuridrani|
The Reds have rested Jake Shatz after his head knock. Scott Higginbotham takes his postion with Robinson moving to 6 and Gill at 7. Simmons returns to the second row. Sam Lane starts at five-eighth and Aiden Toua at outside centre. Rod Davies moves to the wing with Luke Morahan swapping sides.
The Brumbies move Lealiifano to five-eighth and McCabe from wing to centre. Joe Tomaine takes the 11 jersey and Henry Speight swaps to the other wing. Vaea rotates with Hooper on the openside. Dan Palmer returns to tighthead prop and Ben Alexander shifts across to loosehead.
Kick-off 19:40 AEST, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane:
LIVE on FOX Sports 3HD & 3 from 19:30 AEST.
LIVE on 666 ABC Canberra, Grandstand Digital Canberra and streamed online at www.abc.net.au/grandstand from 19:30 AEST
Be part of the conversation on Twitter using #REDvBRU
The Game Breaker
There is class scattered all through both sides. You can see the frustration on James Horwill’s face. This could be the week the Australian captain comes back to form. Scott Higginbotham is playing the house down. Sam Lane has the chance to stamp ‘future Wallaby’ on his bio. Ita Vaea has his chance to own the 7 jersey, as does Lealiifano with the 10. Pat McCabe can turn this game at inside centre. Anything could happen.
I can tell you Reds–Brumbies game have rarely been pretty and I think this one will be won in the trenches too.But I think the game breaker is the back row clash. If Gill and Robinson can starve the Brumbies of ball the game is there for the taking. But if the power running game of the Brumbies’ back row gets on top it will be hard for the Reds to stop it.
The Fearless Prediction
No surprises here. The Reds will win this. I think Horwill and Genia have had enough and will take this game by the scruff of the neck and roar back into form. Reds by 10.
Hey, if you want unbiased commentary buy a newspaper! You always knew I’d back the Reds, didn’t you?