The battered Reds head for Waikato Stadium without three key men: Beau Robinson, Anthony Faingaa and Ben Lucas have not recovered from their injuries. The Reds need a draw or better to take top spot on 2011’s Super Rugby Ladder.
The Chiefs have plenty of reasons to want a big game this week. Coach Ian Foster, captain Mils Muliaina, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Mike Delany and Dwayne Sweeney all finish up with the club this weekend. Emotions are certain to be running high and no stone will be left unturned to send some of the legends of the game off on a high note. Muliaina and Sivivatu in particular are legends in that part of the world, and are both showing particularly good form at the moment.
For the Reds, Liam Gill again replaces Robinson in the seven jersey. Any back row opposition would look better than the Force’s three-fetcher policy he came up against last week, but the Chiefs’ Liam Messam has been on fire lately and their seven, Tanerau Latimer, is no bunny either. Radike Samo and Scott Higginbotham are both great back-rowers, but neither is the strong on-baller and link man Robinson is and Ewen McKenzie needs Gill to fill that role.
Anthony Faingaa and Ben Lucas are the foundations the Reds’ defence is built on. Jono Lance went a long way to filling Lucas’s spot last week and may have earned himself a full contract for next year along the way. That still leaves Faingaa’s 13 channel to fill. Will Chambers is not the defender Faingaa is but he seems to finally be recapturing some of the 2010 form that had many predicting a Wallaby call-up for him this year.
Which brings us to the feel-good story of the week. Luke Morahan’s hamstring failure has opened the door for a Queensland Premier Rugby winger. And who just happens to be running around in the Brisbane club comp? None other than 135-game Super Rugby veteran and one-time All Black Caleb Ralph. He may be 33 and living on the Sunshine Coast but if looks are any indication he still has what it takes to play at the top level.
For the home team, Foster has recalled Aled de Malmanche and Romana Graham to the starting lineup. It’s hard to see the Chiefs losing anything with either of these players and it leaves the Reds facing the prospect of Hika Elliot running around with fresh legs in the last quarter of the game.
They have lost backline mainstay Richard Kahui and have moved Save Tokula into his position. I know he stands at 187cm and 96kg and plays sevens. That’s it. I would love some more info on him so if you can help us out , please write something in the comments section.
In the halves the Reds duo of Will Genia and Quade Cooper come up against a couple of wily customers in Brendon Leonard and Stephen Donald. The Don has been hot and cold lately but Leonard has been spot-on. Genia and Cooper are in career best form, but that form is starting to attract a lot of attention and analysis. The Reds forwards will have to step up to give them the space they need to do the voodoo that they do, so well. (Blazing Saddles reference! YES.)
The Reds go into this match short of six first-team players. All the missing have been at the heart of Queensland’s success this year. It will take a team effort to cover their loss and secure top spot. The Chiefs will, like every other side these days, know what to expect from the Reds. They will want passionately to send off their veterans with a win, and their late season form and never-say-die attitude suggest they are capable of doing it. The Reds’ young guns will be desperate to prove they belong at the top in Super Rugby, and they need to build some momentum going into the finals series.
This week I am not claiming an unbiased prediction. I want the Reds to win! I want them to finish on top. I want the Reds playing all their finals games at Fortress Suncorp.
Reds by 10.
1. Ben May, 2. Aled de Malmanche, 3. Nathan White, 4. Craig Clark, 5. Romana Graham, 6. Liam Messam, 7. Tanerau Latimer , 8. Fritz Lee, 9. Brendon Leonard, 10. Stephen Donald, 11. Sitiveni Sivivatu, 12. Dwayne Sweeney, 13. Save Tokula, 14. Lelia Masaga, 15. Mils Muliaina (c). Reserves: 16. Hika Elliot, 17. Ben Afeaki, 18. Culum Retallick, 19. Matt Vant Leven, 20. Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 21. Tim Nanai-Williams, 22. Jackson Willison.
1. Ben Daley, 2. Saia Faingaa, 3. James Slipper, 4. Rob Simmons, 5. James Horwill (c), 6. Scott Higginbotham, 7. Liam Gill, 8. Jake Schatz, 9. Will Genia, 10. Quade Cooper, 11. Dom Shipperley, 12. Ben Tapuai, 13. Will Chambers, 14. Rod Davies, 15. Jono Lance. Reserves: 16. James Hanson, 17. Greg Holmes, 18. Adam Wallace-Harrison, 19. Radike Samo, 20. Ian Prior, 21. Dallan Murphy, 22. Caleb Ralph.
Referee: Keith Brown
Assistant referees: Glen Jackson, Nick Briant
Television match official: Mike Fraser