The Reds head to Ballymore this weekend with a full spinnaker and a chance to win back-to-back games for the first time since beating both the Bulls and Cats in 2006. They face the Auckland Blues who come into the game with mixed form after a loss and a win in the opening weeks.
Indeed, the Reds also get a chance to have back-to-back wins against the Blues after embarrassing them last year when nothing went right for the Blues, not even the ground’s lights worked properly!
The locals aren’t used to going into games as favourites however this weekend they will be exactly that. Probably the last game the Reds held the favourites tag was against the Lions last year when they lost 20-31 – even though the Lions were down to thirteen men at one stage. Yep, that was a low point.
Despite all the smiling faces and happy times not everything has gone to plan for the Reds who have lost Big Kev for the season but they do get back Sean Hardman, who comes in for James Hanson, and Van Humphries for Horwill.
For the first time in almost half a decade, people are actually starting to talk up the Reds and with the nostalgia hit of Super rugby returning to Ballymore, the weight of expectation is well and truly on them.
How the Reds deal with this expectation will be interesting. So far this season both tactically and motivationally wise, Link has been spot on so you would think he has prepared the team not to be paralysed by the fear of failure now there seems something to lose.
The Reds backline is settled and really starting to hum and with a forward pack that doesn’t look as though it will get bossed around too often, they are a pretty decent package.
It has been noticeable that the Reds are now capable of sticking to a game plan, or at the very least, seem to have a coherent plan to work to. In both games so far this season the Reds have controlled the tempo and limited the basic errors of last year.
Against the Blues the ability to control the tempo of the match will again be critical as the Reds will not want to get into a ‘fast-break’ style of game. The Blues back three is outstanding so the need to slow the game down, kick the ball to touch and mitigate the Blues’ chances of counter attack will be crucial if the Reds are to win.
Watching the Blues this year, they don’t seem capable of sticking to anything. They were woeful in the opening round and not much better in the second where only flashes of individual talent and a lucky rebound from a kick saw them home.
Last week’s game against the Crusaders showed the Reds have some real resolve and scoring prowess, and you get the feeling they will need both of these qualities on Saturday.
Cote says: The bandwagon is fuelled up and ready to roll – Reds by 8