Super 14 - Game of the Week
Reds brace for benchmark Bulls
April 15, 2010
Reds fly-half Quade Cooper can dominate if his pack handles the monstrous Bulls © Getty Images
The Reds return to Queensland from their South African tour with their finals hopes intact but that could all change if they fail to match the table-topping Bulls at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night.
The Reds sit two points behind the fourth-placed Stormers on the Super 14 ladder after beating the winless Lions last week and can't afford to drop off the pace of a leading pack that is continually threatening to pull away from the rest.
The Bulls were clinical in seeing off the Chiefs 33-19 last week, but their early-season points rampage - when they scored 199 points in the first four games - seems a distant memory as they've been forced to grind games out on their Australasian tour. Nevertheless, they've only suffered the one loss to date and sit four points clear of the Crusaders and seven ahead of the Reds.
The Reds' win over the Lions last weekend summed up their season to date: entertainingly patchy. They racked up four unanswered tries in the opening 16 minutes in Johannesburg but then took their foot off the pedal and allowed their winless hosts to draw to within eight points before eventually awaking from their slumber and seeing out the game quite comfortably. If they can maintain their concentration, the Reds are more than capable of upsetting the Bulls.
They will go into the match with the benefit of an unchanged starting XV, although Ewen McKenzie has tinkered with his bench by bring in prop Jack Kennedy to give it a 5-2 balance in favour of an extra forward.
"We're expecting a physical contest right across the field so we need to be ready to match that in the forwards but also in the backs," McKenzie said. "Bringing Jack Kennedy into the mix gives us an extra front row option, while Brando enjoys the physical stuff and this game suits what he can bring.
"We've left the starting side the same because they did the job for us against the Lions and with our abbreviated preparation we wanted to keep the combinations unchanged."
One such combination is that of halves pair Will Genia and Quade Cooper, who were the subject of praise from Wallabies great George Gregan midweek. Gregan is Australia's most-capped player, so his endorsement of the dynamic Genia-Cooper duo come with some weight. The pair have really caught the eye this season and are likely to be combined in the same positions when the international calendar gets underway.
The imposing, experienced Bulls teams has had a relatively good run with injuries this campaign, and they have only one change for this match with Derick Kuun coming in for Deon Stegmann after returning from injury. Kuun is set to become the latest Bull to make his 50th Super rugby appearance. Stegmann drops to the bench.
Coach Frans Ludeke hailed the club's behind the scenes workers for ensuring the team is ready to do the job on the pitch every week.
"The fact we can pick almost the same team week after week is testimony to the great work the medical staff is doing. There are almost no niggles to speak of and that makes it so much easier to manage the group," Ludeke said.
Pedrie Wannenburg is still bracketed with Jaco Engels on the bench though, with the veteran loose forward struggling with a calf strain. And flyhalf Morné Steyn is set to become South Africa's all-time leading scorer in Super Rugby with the Springboks No.10 just two points shy of André Pretorius' mark of 645.
Reds: Peter Hynes; Rod Davies, Will Chambers, Anthony Faingaa, Digby Ioane; Quade Cooper, Will Genia (capt); Ben Daley, Saia Faingaa, Laurie Weeks, Rob Simmons, Van Humphries, Scott Higginbotham, Daniel Braid, Leroy Houston
Replacements: Sean Hardman, Greg Holmes, Jack Kennedy, Ezra Taylor, Jake Schatz, Ben Lucas, Brando Va'aulu
Bulls: Zane Kirchner; Gerhard van den Heever, Stephan Dippenaar, Wynand Olivier, Francois Hougaard; Morne Steyn, Fourie du Preez; Gurthrö Steenkamp, Gary Botha, Werner Kruger, Danie Rossouw, Victor Matfield (capt), Derick Kuun, Dewald Potgieter, Pierre Spies
Replacements: Bandise Maku, Bees Roux, Flip van der Merwe, Deon Stegmann, Heini Adams/John Mametsa, Jacques-Louis Potgieter, Pedrie Wannenburg/Jaco Engels
We bring you our pick of the best pictures from around the world in the last seven days with the battle for Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup glory taking centre stage
"If you listen carefully you should be able to hear them mining the granite for the statue of a certain Jonny Wilkinson" Graham Jenkins reports from the Heineken Cup Final
Quade Cooper's defence is better than it was 12 months ago and Robbie Deans has erred in omitting him from the core Wallabies squad to play the Lions, Greg Growden writes
"People on the outside think unfounded thoughts on Toulon." Tom Hamilton talks to RCT lock Nick Kennedy ahead of Saturday's Heineken Cup final against Clermont