Reds v Blues, Super Rugby Semi-Final, July 2
Reds resume quest for Super Rugby glory
July 1, 2011
Quade Cooper and co will be back in action for the Reds at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday © Getty Images
The Reds and Blues will go head-to-head at the Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane on Saturday for a place in this year's Super Rugby Final.
Fresh from the week off their table-topping effort during the regular season secured them, the Reds are set to entertain their trans-Tasman rivals in front of a full house with the chance of booking a return to the old Lang Park the following weekend for the tournament finale. The Blues kept their push for a fifth Super Rugby title, and a first since 2003, alive with a 26-13 victory over the Waratahs last weekend as the new-look post-season kicked off.
The Reds racked up thirteen victories on their way to the knock-out stages including a thrilling 37-31 victory over the Blues back in May and will be favourites to repeat that success and progress to the final for the first time.
Reds - Player to Watch: Fly-half Quade Cooper may grab the headlines but scrum-half Will Genia will be equally influential in setting the tone for the game. He edged out his No.10 for the Australian Super Rugby Player of the Year honour and may steal the headlines again on Saturday.
Reds - Team News: In the only injury-enforced change to the side that secured top seeding for the finals series, former Wallabies prop Greg Holmes replaces James Slipper in the front row. Holmes was preferred to Guy Shepherdson, who is included in a bench while Beau Robinson's recovery from a dislocated elbow means Liam Gill reverts to the reserves. Jake Schatz makes way for Radike Samo at No.8 and Dom Shipperly drops out of the squad to accommodate Digby Ioane's return from concussion. Will Chambers is also relegated to the bench for Anthony Faingaa who has recovered from a hamstring strain. Click here for the full team.
Blues - Player to Watch: "He's The Weakest Link" was how one local paper described Blues playmaker Stephen Brett ahead of the clash so the All Blacks hopeful will be keen to prove his doubters wrong.
Blues - Team News: Winger Lachie Munro has recovered from a hip injury scare suffered last weekend and gets the nod ahead of Rene Ranger in the No.11 shirt with the latter starting on the bench. Munro will take on the kicking duties while Chris Lowery steps in for the injured Anthony Boric at lock and will partner Ali Williams. Among the replacements, James King is preferred ahead of Mat Luamanu as the back-up lock and Sherwin Stowers covers the outside backs ahead of Winston Stanley. Click here for the full team.
Key Battle: There is little doubt that Cooper and Brett will have a large say in how this game plays out which makes the contest for the ball crucial. Quick ball will be the aim of both sides with an intriguing match-up at the lineout pitching Aussie duo Rob Simmons and James Horwill against Kiwi rivals Chris Lowrey and Ali Williams.
Trivia: The Reds return to the semi-final stage for the first time in a decade with their previous final four appearance ending with a 30-6 hammering at the hands of the title-bound Brumbies. The Blues on the other hand have played in five semi-finals since 1996, four of which resulted in Super Rugby Final appearances and wins.
Stats: A team who qualified fourth have not beaten a top-seeded side since the Crusaders won their Super 12 semi-final against the Reds at Ballymore in 1999, and the last visiting team to win a semi-final were the Brumbies at Sydney in 2002.
"He understands the big stage and he's played on it plenty of times already, and delivered." - Reds coach Ewen McKenzie backs fly-half Quade Cooper to turn it on.
"What I want from a player is character and strength of mind and that's what he's shown in the last three to four weeks." - Blues boss Pat Lam defends under-fire playmaker Stephen Brett.
Prediction: History and recent form weighs heavily in the Reds' favour and their big names are sure to entertain a bumper crowd on their way to a first-ever final appearance.
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