The good news this week that Big Kev Horwill and Van Humphries are returning to the Reds’ team has been tempered with the really shit news that Peter Hynes has been ruled out with a knee problem. This late change gives newcomer Rodney Davies the task of making Lelia Masaga, not an easy thing to do I’d imagine. But still it could be worse; he could be on the other wing and have to mark Sitiveni Sivivatu, like Blair Connor has to…..
The wings are the area where the Chiefs are the strongest whereas the Reds are the weakest, and it is this weakness that could be the Reds un-doing. It is an irony that the Reds forwards this week look stronger than the Reds backline, the demotion of Scott Higginbotham to the bench to make way for returning players confirms this.
If the Chiefs get anywhere close to their last effort against the Blues then the Reds are no chance, but, as so often happens, a truly stellar performance one week, often leads to less than convincing one the next.
The Reds have shown this year that they can attack and with the passes finally sticking against the Sharks a fortnight ago, the Reds cannot be counted out of this game. With all the Reds attacking bravado, the fact that they have the competition’s third best defence has gone virtually un-noticed. This stat is even more impressive when you consider the amount of ball the Reds gift their opponents through mistakes.
These attacking mistakes represent a huge risk for the Reds as last week the Chiefs showed they are devastating from turnover ball – it’s two or three passes wide to the burners on either wing and full steam ahead for the try line.
I suspect the Reds should have dominance in the tight five so it will be interesting to see if they have the maturity to tweak their game to play to this strength, rather than take on the Chiefs out wide where they are clearly out pointed.
Although it is the Chiefs’ two wingers that are getting all the plaudits, it is half-back Brendon Leonard and flanker Liam Messam who are the catalyst for so much of the Chiefs’ attack. Expect plenty of scrum base running from Leonard as he tests out just how stable Ben Lucas’ ribs are and lots of destructive running from the dynamic Messam.
This game should be a good one with two of the most expansive teams in the competition really having a crack at each other. Key for the Reds will be to control the ball and wait for the leaky Waikato defence to fray at the edges. They must also limit the space that the Chiefs backrow found themselves in last week, particularly running in mid-field where they can link with the outside fast men.
The Reds are clearly a team on the rise and don’t seem to be phased when they get behind in games, this is good because the Chiefs are going to score more than a few points. It is hard to see the Chiefs racking up another cricket score this week against a stoic Reds defence and it is the Reds defence, rather than their attack, that will win them the game this week.
Cote says – Reds by 4
Ben Daley, Sean Hardman, Laurie Weeks, Van Humphries, James Horwill, Hugh McMeniman, Daniel Braid, Leroy Houston, Ben Lucas, Quade Cooper, Berrick Barnes, Rod Davies, Digby Ioane, Blair Connor, Mark McLinden. Reserves Saia Faingaa, Jack Kennedy, Scott Higginbotham, Poutasi Luafutu, Brendan McKibbin, Anthony Faingaa, Rod Davies.