The Reds head over the ditch for a tricky assignment against the Highlanders in Dunedin in what should be a highly entertaining match between two sides who can play great running rugby.
The Reds had a horror week going into round two. They found themselves in the news for two of the worst reasons, a bad loss and then a star recruit being involved in a serious criminal case.
They did really well to bounce back and win against a tough Force outfit. They will have been very pleased with the way the scrum went and would have been happy to win the breakdown contest as this is an area the Force are particularly good.
Over the ditch, the Highlanders, having had the bye in the first week, got their campaign off to a start with a South Island derby against the Crusaders. In a tough game they ended up losing 20-26 and it’s a measure of the side that just getting a bonus point against a side like the Cru isn’t satisfactory. The word coming from the deep south is that they feel they ought to have won.
The Reds will clearly want to build on last week’s performance and so we can expect to see them try to get some scrum dominance and they might try some of the mauling they were developing in pre season as well.
With ‘Rabbits’ O’Connor back at fly half it will be interesting to see how he can ignite a Reds back line that, on paper, is big and fast. It will good to see them stitch it together with something like the execution that can fill Suncorp.
The highlanders are no one’s fools. They don’t have any test players in their pack but they are, like all Kiwi sides, well drilled, hard and good enough to be taken very seriously. They’ll attack the breakdown aggressively and try to get quick ball for the likes of either of the Smiths to work with. The Reds also looked vulnerable to pick and drives last week where the Force did carve off some meters.
Further wide, Malaki Fekitoa will provide a good examination for the Reds centres, where Ant Fainga’a makes a return, and Aaron Smith is as good a half back playing the game, so Will Genia will need to be sharp. I’m pretty sure Adam Thomson will be revved up and expecting a warm reception from his former teammates as well.
On paper, this looks like a close game that could see a hat full of tries.
Up front, the Reds will be without James Horwill (injured hand) so Dave McDuling gets the nod at lock for a debut. Otherwise the pack is the same that stepped up against the Force last week.
In the backs, James O’Connor is scheduled to start at fly half, meaning Nick Frisby is back on the bench after covering last week. The youngster Campbell Magnay drops from the wing to the bench meaning Chris Feauai-Sautia shifts over to the wing to make space for Anthony Fainga’a to come back into the centres.
The bench is unchanged.
In the Highlanders pack Ash Dixon will start at rake in place of Liam Coltman and in the locks Joe Wheeler drops to the bench and is replaced by Mark Reddish. They are giving a debut to Marty Banks at 10 after Lima Sopoaga pulled out for family reasons. Shaun Treeby drops out of the centres so Jason Emery will start at 12.
On the bench Josh Hohneck and Liam Coltman come in with the rest as it was last week.
Key Match Ups
Will Genia has been short of the form that made him arguably the leading scrum half in the game a few seasons ago. Opposite him this round is the All Black incumbent, Aaron Smith. If Sanchez wants a seat to the UK later in the year, these are the sort of match ups he needs to start getting on top of.
For me, the key match ups will be the back rows. Whichever unit can dominate the tackle area and get quick possession for its side while denying that to the other will have a major advantage. With Adam Thomson coming to his old stamping ground, there is ever more edge here.
I haven’t backed the Reds in a preview in a while but I’m going to now. The Highlanders have been forced into a few changes whereas the Reds are more settled and can build from last week. Reds by under 5!
Highlanders v Reds
|Brendon Edmonds||1||James Slipper|
|Ash Dixon||2||Saia Fainga'a|
|Ross Geldenhuys||3||Sam Talakai|
|Mark Reddish||4||Dave McDuling|
|Tom Franklin||5||Marco Kotze|
|Elliot Dixon||6||Adam Thomson|
|John Hardie||7||Liam Gill|
|Nasi Manu||8||Jake Schatz|
|Aaron Smith||9||Will Genia|
|Marty Banks||10||James O'Connor|
|Patrick Osborne||11||Chris Feauai-Sautia|
|Jason Emery||12||Anthony Fainga'a|
|Malakai Fekitoa||13||Samu Kerevi|
|Waisake Naholo||14||Chris Kuridrani|
|Ben Smith||15||Lachie Turner|
|Josh Hohneck||16||James Hanson|
|Liam Coltman||17||Ben Daley|
|Ma'afu Fia||18||Sef Faagase|
|Joe Wheeler||19||Tom Murday|
|Dan Pryor||20||Curtis Browning|
|Fumiaki Tanaka||21||Nick Frisby|
|Hayden Parker||22||Sam Johnson|
|Kurt Baker||23||Campbell Magnay|
|Location:||Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin|
|Kickoff:||Fri 27 Feb 17:35|
|Assistant Ref 1:||Kane McBride|
|Assistant Ref 2:||Paul Williams|
|TMO :||Vinny Munro|