Super 14 - Game of the Week
Reds and Brumbies in battle of wits
April 29, 2010
Matt Giteau was fined but he got his way with a referee change © Getty Images
The on-fire Reds travel to chilly Canberra on Saturday to confront the desperate Brumbies in a Super 14 Australian derby with everything on the line.
Once again our Game of the Week features the competition's undoubted surprise package in the Queensland Reds, the upstarts who have combined youthful exuberance with an exciting brand of rugby that has blown away the competition's top sides. The Reds sit fourth, equal on points with the Stormers and the Crusaders above them, with the finals in sight. The Waratahs are poised one point behind and the Brumbies are also lurking with intent, so the Reds must simply keep winning if they are to achieve their finals dream.
The Brumbies sit seven points off the play-off places but with the Reds and the Crusaders still to come, they stand a chance of clawing their way into the finals if they win their last three games. The star-studded team has failed to impress this season, but with experienced Wallabies across the pitch, the pressure of must-win rugby should not be too heavy a burden for the Brumbies.
In fact, the theme of Saturday's clash could well be the mental battle fought between the two teams. The Reds have had the benefit of underdog status all season, throwing everything at the competition's powerhouses with nothing to lose. Suddenly, they have the weight of expectation on their young shoulders with the finals in their grasp, and Wallabies coach Robbie Deans this week backed them as potential competition winners.
Opposing them are the misfiring veterans, who have struggled to get out of first gear all year but who know how to get the job done at this end of the season. On form the Reds should have the edge, but the Brumbies have the potential to reach their best when it matters most.
The Reds have turned over the Bulls and the Stormers at their Suncorp home in the last two weeks thanks to specialised game plans developed for each encounter. Reds coach Ewen McKenzie deserves no end of credit for the turnaround in fortunes he has inspired since stepping in at the start of the season. McKenzie has the benefit of a young team that is willing to be coached, meaning he can deploy certain tactics for specific opposition without the risk of upsetting egos. That his strategies have proved successful more often than not has only developed more trust in his methods by his players, and the Reds have developed a special energy because of this dynamic.
Scrum-half Will Genia has been the player of the tournament so far and the man outside him, Quade Cooper, is enjoying the best form of his life as a result. The pair seem destined to resume their combination in Wallabies colours later this year. Wallabies boss Deans said this week the Reds were potential Super 14 champions if they maintained their flexible style of play for the rest of the campaign.
"They are a side who clearly have the capability of winning the competition," Deans told the Courier-Mail. "The reason for that is they have been striving to play a brand that is capable of winning the comp, as opposed to simply qualifying (for the finals).
"I think it's evident in the way they are approaching their work that they're not limiting themselves to simply qualifying. They are aspiring to win every game and are prepared to play to achieve that. They're prepared to get outside their own comfort zone and take their opponent outside theirs. You don't achieve it (winning titles) unless you take that approach."
Jack Kennedy will make his starting debut for the Reds in place of injured prop Laurie Weeks, who has a foot problem. Lock Van Humphries and wing Rod Davies have failed to prove their fitness in time for the match, but should return next week. The Reds have been hit by the news that this season will be flanker Daniel Braid's last in their colours as he returns to New Zealand to chase an All Blacks jersey.
The Brumbies fell at the hands of fierce rivals the Waratahs last week, to make it back-to-back losses for the first time since March 2009. It appeared as though the winner of that match would be the final contender in the race for top four spots but the Brumbies stand a chance of sneaking in if they win on Saturday.
They were furious at the performance of controversial referee Steve Walsh in the Sydney clash, where Adam Ashley-Cooper was harshly denied a try that could have turned the result around. Walsh was caught speaking to Brumbies captain Stephen Hoiles in a condescing tone during the match. Fly-half Matt Giteau has been fined A$5000 for comments that the Brumbies may as well not show up to the Reds match, since Walsh was originally set to be in charge. Walsh has since been removed from his post on this match due to the potential circus that would surround his involvement.
The Brumbies will need more than favourable refereeing to overcome the Reds and their cause hasn't been helped by the news Stirling Mortlock and Julian Huxley have been ruled out with back problems. Brackin Karauria-Henry will make his debut on the wing with Ashley-Cooper shifting to fullback.
Brumbies coach Andy Friend sought out the positives from these latest injury setbacks by praising the performances of his wider squad players this season.
"We said from the outset that one of the strengths of this side was its depth and that's certainly been tested this season," he said. "The positive thing is that everyone who's come in to fill a vacancy has risen to the challenge and has shown that they are capable of playing Super 14 rugby."
Brumbies: Adam Ashley-Cooper; Pat McCabe, Andrew Smith, Tyrone Smith, Brackin Karauria-Henry; Matt Giteau, Josh Valentine; Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore, Salesi Ma'afu, Mitchell Chapman, Mark Chisholm, Rocky Elsom, Colby Faingaa, Stephen Hoiles (capt)
Replacements: Huia Edmonds, Jerry Yanutanutawa, Ben Hand, Michael Hooper, Patrick Phibbs, Robbie Coleman, Ed Stubbs
Reds: Peter Hynes; Brando Va'aulu, Will Chambers, Anthony Faingaa, Digby Ioane; Quade Cooper, Will Genia (capt); Ben Daley, Saia Faingaa, Jack Kennedy, Rob Simmons, Adam Byrnes, Scott Higginbotham, Daniel Braid, Leroy Houston
Replacements: Sean Hardman, Greg Holmes, Ezra Taylor, Jake Schatz, Ben Lucas, Ben Tapuai, Luke Morahan