It’s one of my favourite fixtures of the year, the Reds v Highlanders, the matches are generally entertaining, close and played with reasonably good intent. They are also my two favourite teams. I’m hoping this years fixture will be more of the same but I’m not so sure.
In years gone by, these two teams were very similar. They loved to play with ball in hand and their game plans were centred around an attacking philosophy. Both capable of attacking from anywhere on the field and with genuine threats across the back line. The 2016 versions of these two teams though have moved away from this model; the Reds seemingly out of necessity but the Highlanders by design.
The Reds are on the up since the first two rounds and while the intangibles like intent, confidence, and pride seem to be creeping back in the playing group, the measurable factors like tries scored and line breaks created are still sorely lacking. They are doing what they can with what they have, but there is no doubting it will probably not be enough this season.
The Highlanders on the other hand are the defending champions and have a team littered with talent. The confusing thing then is their apparent preference to play without the ball. They make the most tackles of any team in the competition – a stat they are apparently quite proud of. It was summed up beautifully in the GaGR Podcast 204; The Highlanders will happily let their opposition have the ball all night and wait for a mistake or errant kick to counter attack and score. They will do that 3 or 4 times in a match and they are done. So much for running Rugby.
Key Match Ups:
Kerevi vs Fekitoa – The battle at outside centre will be a good one to watch. After bursting onto the scene, many (myself included) had the Highlanders midfielder pegged as the next big thing and potentially the answer to the question, “How will the All Blacks deal with life after Nonu?”. He got his start with the National side and just seems to be struggling to consistently find that devastating top gear in the Test arena.
Kerevi’s entrance onto the Super Rugby stage came with an equally large bang, with a couple of late season starts for the Reds. He tore up in the NRC and he was seemingly destined for Gold. His development trajectory since has slowed down and again is struggling to hit that top gear consistently.
In any case, both players can shed tackles when they are in the mood and could cause each other a ton of headaches on Saturday night.
Gill vs Christie – This is the match up I am really looking forward to. Shane ‘Tackles’ Christie wears the captains badge this weekend and is a lead from the front kind of guy. His work rate is immense and he will lift the Highlanders forwards such is his presence. Liam ‘F-ing’ Gill is to many, an unofficial Captain of the Reds and is also someone who will lead from the front. When he is on the field, the Reds forwards seem to grow an extra leg. Both will be making loads of tackles, both will be working hard at the breakdown to nullify the others impact and both will be doing everything they can to lead their team to victory.
The Reds name an almost unchanged line up from the Team that took on the Waratahs before the bye. Captain James Slipper comes back into the starting XV from injury as does Chris Feauai-Sautia with Saf Fa’agase being relegated to the bench and last minute fill in, Junior Laloifi, missing out on the 23 altogether. The match day 23 has been largely unchanged all season and they should be feeling pretty settled.
The Highlanders have made a string of changes to their team that beat the Force last weekend. Fullback Ben Smith has been ruled out with a concussion, so Faddes moves to full back and Wilson comes on to the wing. Sopoaga returns to the 10 jersey relegating Hayden Parker to the bench, Shane Christie swaps his bench spot with Dan Pryor and Whitelock comes in for injured Elliot Dixon. Excellent locking pair, Wheeler and Reddish are starting and Dan Lienert-Brown replaces Brendon Edmondas after the prop was ruled out for the season with a knee injury.
|Karmichael Hunt||15||Matt Faddes|
|Chris Feauai-Sautia||14||Jack Wilson|
|Samu Kerevi||13||Malakai Fekitoa|
|Anthony Fainga’a||12||Rob Thompson|
|Eto Nabuli||11||Pat Osborne|
|Jake McIntyre||10||Lima Sopoaga|
|Nick Frisby||9||Aaron Smith|
|Jake Schatz||8||Liam Squire|
|Liam Gill||7||Shane Christie (c)|
|Hendrik Tui||6||Luke Whitelock|
|Rob Simmons||5||Joe Wheeler|
|Caydern Neville||4||Mark Reddish|
|Greg Holmes||3||Siosiua Halanukonuka|
|Andrew Ready||2||Liam Coltman|
|James Slipper (c)||1||Daniel Lienert-Brown|
|Saia Fainga’a||16||Ash Dixon|
|Sef Fa’agase||17||Ross Geldenhuys|
|Sam Talakai||18||Josh Hohneck|
|Ben Matwijow||19||om Franklin|
|Curtis Browning||20||Dan Pryor|
|Scott Gale||21||Fumiaki Tanaka|
|Sam Greene||22||Hayden Parker|
|Ayumu Goromaru||23||Jason Emery|
Although they sit at 5th on the overall ladder, the Highlanders are 2nd on competition points. They have only dropped one game this season and it was in round 1 when they narrowly lost to the Blues in a wonderful match. The Reds on the other hand are languishing 1 point off the bottom of the ladder and are here to date winless so far in the season with a draw to the Blues the only non-loss on their record.
The Highlanders are 1 and 1 against NZ opposition with a points differential of -1 but against all other opposition they are 4 and 0 with a points differential of +59. The Reds had a couple of heavy losses in the first two rounds but their head coach was sacked and since then have had two defeats by only 2 points and one draw under the new Co-Head Coach arrangement. It’s fair to say they have turned a corner.
The Reds main point of difference this season has been their scrum – one of the best in the comp at 94% success. They have used it effectively as the weapon it is to gain field position but have struggled to turn that into points. The Highlanders though also have one of the best scrums in the comp with 94% success. Interestingly, the Highlanders, despite having a strong scrum, are the only team not to have won a scrum penalty this season.
Stats aside, the Highlanders game plan is bad news for the Reds. They will give the Reds the ball all night knowing that they lack the penetration to score tries and will wait for opportunities for counter attack. The Reds defence has been very hard to crack when organised but in broken play it is likely the Clan will land enough blows in broken field play to comfortably bring home the chocolates.
If the Reds spent the week off working out how to finally break their oppositions defensive line and score tries then an upset could be on the cards but in reality, I am predicting the Highlanders by 10-15.
Date: Saturday 9 April, 2016
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Kick Off: 7:40pm (AEST)
Referee: Glen Jackson
Assistant Referees: Paul Williams & Jordan Way
TMO: George Ayoub