Gone are the days when the Reds were the misery of the competition. That title well and truly belongs to the Lions now. The Reds are fifth and have their tails up while the Lions are last and have theirs between their legs.
Anything other than a Reds win is hard to tip however there are a few pointers to suggest this game could be a potential banana-skin for the banana benders.
The Lions are coming off the bye after a disastrous road trip to the antipodes where they lost every game and conceded an average 43 points in each outing. It would be too much of a stretch to suggest they could fix these sorts of defensive problems in a week however they will be fresh and playing at home – two things the Reds are not.
The key for the Reds will be to maintain structure and not get drawn into the Lions laissez-faire brand of play. The Lions have shown against the Chiefs and the Clan that they can rack up tries if the opposition clocks off and the Reds have been guilty of fading in and out of games this year.
Le Link has again made plenty of changes to his team by downsizing the bulk orientated selections of the Sharks game to a more streamlined and pacy unit.
Byrnes and Kennedy making way for Ben Tapuai and Ezra Taylor while Rocket Rod moves onto the wing in place of Morahan, Leroy and Schatz also swap places, as do Hardman and Saia Faingaa.
It is a clear indication that McKenzie expects an open, fast moving affair. This will suit the Reds who have punished teams with their defence and scored plenty of tries off turnover ball.
The Reds have the second best defensive record in the competition thus far and are third in terms of points scored, not a bad combination.
Leading this charge has been Genia and Cooper who rival the Bulls combo of du Preez and Styen as the most productive of the year. It is hard to believe that this time last year Genia was coming off the bench and Cooper was playing second fiddle to Barnes.
Cooper comes up against his boyhood hero in King Carlos and will no doubt be looking to lead him a merry dance similar to their last meeting on the Wallabies end of year tour at the end of 2009.
Lost amongst the disappointment of last weeks loss was the outstanding effort of Will Chambers who had his first start at outside centre. Chambers re-paid McKenzie’s faith in him by bagging two goats and providing some real starch in the mid-field defence.
The Reds will be looking to take five points from tomorrow’s game and keep the goat count powering on. You’d have to be a supreme pessimist to suggest they won’t be able to achieve this.
In year’s past the Reds have dropped games when they have been favourites, but this year they have a maturity and composure that takes this out of the equation.
Cote says – Reds by 10 with a four try bonus goat.