O’Connor to debut at fly-half for Reds

Date published: February 26 2015

Reds head coach Richard Graham has made four changes to his starting side to take on the Highlanders in Dunedin this Friday.

Highlighting the changes is the inclusion of James O’Connor, who will make his Queensland debut after withdrawing from last week’s match during the warm ups.

O’Connor will replace utility Nick Frisby in the starting lineup. Frisby shifts to the reserves bench following an impressive performance at fly-half last week.

Anthony Fainga’a returns from a serious cork suffered in the Reds’ pre-season match against the Crusaders at Ballymore three weeks ago. Fainga’a joins Samu Kerevi in the centres, shifting Chris Feauai-Sautia to the wing, with 18-year-old Campbell Magnay moving to the reserves, after making his starting debut last weekend.

This match will also see Reds lock and Brisbane City captain Dave McDuling make his starting debut in place of James Horwill, who is out with a hand injury suffered against the Western Force.

Graham said last weekend's win over the Force was a positive one, but they had shifted focus to the Highlanders almost immediately.

"Whilst last week’s win was hugely important, this week is a new challenge and we have been heavily focused on ensuring we get the mindset right," said  Graham.

"We are chasing small improvements in our performances every week and the only way you’ll achieve that is by starting the process over at the beginning of each week.

"Leading into a game we have control over our attitude and preparation. A short turnaround has meant an even sharper focus and need to get things spot on.

"I have made a number of changes – some forced, some tactical. Either way, we have said that ultimately it will be the squad we rely heavily on to get us results, not just a select group of individuals.

"Nick Frisby did a fantastic job for us last week after being thrown in at the last minute but James O’Connor was selected to start against the Force and deserves an opportunity. It has been a while coming but he has done everything for a number of weeks at training and is well prepared.

"Dave McDuling has been around the squad now for four years but injury was cruel to him the first few seasons. He did a wonderful job last season captaining Brisbane City and I know the squad will be delighted to see him win his first starting cap for the Reds.

"With a number of players returning from injury now it presents options and competition for places. That will drive the group to higher levels."

Shifting focus to this weekend’s opponents, Graham said he hoped former Highlanders favourite Adam Thomson would get a warm welcome back home.

"I can’t help but think Adam will get a wonderful reception wearing a red jersey. Maybe ‘The Zoo’ will be cheering for us a wee little bit this weekend. That’d be pretty cool wouldn’t it?" Graham joked.

"The Highlanders team have threats across the park. We will need to control how and where we give them possession, otherwise we’ll be doing a lot of tackling. Aaron Smith at halfback adds speed to their game, Malakai Fekitoa offloaded more than anyone in 2014 and their back three are a real handful."

This week Reds prop Ben Daley’s ‘Be Great, Do Good’ campaign features headgear in support of The Great New Zealand Trek – raising money for Multiple Sclerosis.

‘Be Great, Do Good’ is an initiative by Daley, in which he will support a different charity every week by wearing unique headgear to raise awareness and funds for their cause. Click here for more information.

The Reds and Highlanders have met 18 times in Super Rugby, with nine wins each.

Reds: 15 Lachie Turner, 14 Chris Kuridrani, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Anthony Fainga’a, 11 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 10 James O’Connor, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Liam Gill , 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Marco Kotze, 4 Dave McDuling, 3 Sam Talakai, 2 Saia Fainga’a, 1 James Slipper (c)
Replacements:16 James Hanson, 17 Ben Daley, 18 Sef Faagase, 19 Tom Murday, 20 Curtis Browning, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Sam Johnson, 23 Campbell Magnay

Date: Friday 27 February
Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium Dunedin
Kick-off:  19:35 local (06.35 GMT)
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Kane McBride (New Zealand), Jamie Nutbrown (New Zealand)
TMO: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)