Two of Australian Rugby’s most polarising figures, best breds James O’Connor and Quade Cooper, face off in an eagerly awaited match at AAMI Park on Friday.
With the Melbourne Rebels desperate, the Queensland Reds flying, and a golden number 10 jersey against the Lions close at hand, no amount of sushi will stand in their way on mate’s night.
The Rebels looked in control during a soggy first half against the Waratahs, ending the first 40 minutes with a 10-point lead. However, the Melburnians let a lead go astray in the second half for the second consecutive match, conceding 25 points in the final 40 minutes to surrender another winnable match. Only a Kurtley Beale try on the buzzer stopped the Rebels from the embarrassment of leaving Allianz Stadium empty-handed. They have played with more flair and skill than previous years, but their game plan is unpredictable – even, it seems, to them.
The Reds, meanwhile, are humming along quite nicely. Their games against the Waratahs and Hurricanes have had their flaws, with the team conceding points more readily than the champions of a few years ago, but I am yet to see the Reds really lose composure in a match. They are still controlled at the breakdown, measured in attack and fluid through the backs. It may not always be a spectacle, but it’s clinical.
The Rebels are treating this match as a grand final, and so they should. With a month to pass before they see AAMI Park again, comprising of a tough Republic roadtrip and another of their brutal Force derbies, they are no chance at finals if they end their first month 1-3. The Reds, meanwhile, will be 3-1 with a win, (likely) sitting snugly behind the Brumbies, and will be well placed for another crack at the playoffs.
1. Nic Henderson, 2. Ged Robinson (vc), 3. Laurie Weeks, 4. Hugh Pyle, 5. Cadeyrn Neville, 6. Luke Jones, 7. Scott Fuglistaller, 8. Scott Higginbotham, 9. Nick Phipps, 10. James O’Connor (c), 11. Alex Rokobaro, 12. Lachlan Mitchell, 13. Mitch Inman, 14. Richard Kingi, 15. Angus Roberts (debut)
RESERVES: 16. Shota Horie, 17. Paul Alo-Emile, 18. Jordy Reid, 19. Jarrod Saffy, 20. Nic Stirzaker, 21. Rory Sidey, 22. Tom English
Caretaker captain James O’Connor moves from fullback into flyhalf, following a hand injury sustained by Kurtley Beale against the Waratahs. Alex Rokobaro gets a run-on on the wing, with Rory Sidey on the bench. Angus Roberts, a utility back from Sydney University, will make his Super debut at fullback. There are big wraps on this kid, with Rebels coaches stating he is ‘one of the most natural footballers […] seen at the club’.
1. Greg Holmes, 2. Saia Fainga’a, 3. James Slipper (c), 4. Ed O’Donoghue, 5. Rob Simmons, 6. Eddie Quirk, 7. Liam Gill, 8. Jake Schatz, 9. Nick Frisby, 10. Quade Cooper, 11. Digby Ioane, 12. Ben Tapuai, 13. Anthony Fainga’a, 14. Dom Shipperley, 15. Jono Lance
RESERVES: 16. James Hanson, 17. Albert Anae, 18. Adam Wallace-Harrison, 19. Radike Samo, 20. Ben Lucas, 21. Mike Harris, 22. Chris Feauai-Sautia Anthony Fainga’a returns for the Reds, who returns from injury straight into the starting team, teaming up with Victorian Ben Tapuai in the centres. The two always make for a potent combination, and will prove a challenge for a Rebels centre pairing still in their nascence. Nick Frisby moves into scrumhalf for Ben Lucas, and Jono Lance will run on at fullback.
The Rebels face the Reds at AAMI Park, Melbourne, on Friday at 7.40pm AEDT.
The game is telecast on FOX Sports 1 and 1HD.
The Reds have saluted on all four occasions the two have met, including twice in Melbourne.
The last time they met was in round 16 2012, with the Reds defeating the Rebels 32-17 at AAMI Park.
The man in the middle is Argentinean, Francisco Pastrana. James Leckie and Ed Martin are assisting, with George Ayoub watching the Foxtel.
This match is all about QC v JOC. Both players are capable of turning a match on a 5c piece, and with the third challenger for the Wallaby number 10 jersey incapacitated, both will be wanting to impress. Quade will have the upper hand in this bout, with an experienced centre pairing and the electric Digby Ioane to assist with his playmaking.
I can see James O’Connor thinking that he will need to shoulder a great deal of the workload out back, through running the ball or clearing straight to the outside backs. I believe he needs to do the opposite, keeping the ball in the forwards and working the Reds close. Whether he’s disciplined enough to make this happen will be a big factor in this match, and in James’ hopes of running the show against the Lions.
THE FEARLESS PREDICTION
In a match billed as the Battle of the Breds, I actually think this game will come down to the forward packs. The Rebels seem unsteady without Gareth Delve’s calming presence, but they are still a force to be reckoned with up front. The experienced Reds pack will be well used to playing patient, phased ball, and Quade will know when the time is right to set the backs loose. James, however, still needs to prove that he has the selflessness to cede control of the game to the forwards.
If he does, then it’s game on, but I think the Reds will have too much in the arsenal.
Reds by 17.
Which bred is taking out the bento box on Friday night?