Two teams desperate for victory meet in Brisbane on Saturday as the Reds host the Kings in a game that could make or break their campaign.
Despite losing six games out of seven so far, amazingly the Reds’ are not yet out of the play-off mix due to them being only 10 points off the pace-setting Brumbies in Australia. They should use it as fuel and no doubt Nick Stiles has been drilling home that message this week.
The Kings however are surely out of the running as last week’s spirited effort in defeat at the Force leaves them 17 points off the Lions.
It’s surely a case of playing for pride and personal futures for them now following the news that two South African franchises will be cut at the end of the season. If they perform like they did in Perth then the majority will surely be contracted at a decent level from next season.
However, the form book doesn’t look good for the Port Elizabeth outfit ahead of their first meeting with the Reds. The Brisbane side have won six of their last eight games at home against South African rivals, including each of their last two. Furthermore the Kings have won just one of their last five games outside their home country, conceding a worrying average of 48 points per game across that dismal period.
The Reds will hope they can bounce back from last weekend’s hiding at the hands of the Brumbies and in Samu Kerevi they’ve the ultimate strike weapon who must be utilised. This season he’s beaten 33 defenders from just seven games, eight more than any other player.
And with Karmichael Hunt and Quade Cooper back in the line-up alongside the threat that Scott Higginbotham poses, it’s difficult to see anything but a home win on Saturday. Should they lose then the knives would surely be out for Stiles, with their season then all but over.
The last time these teams met: Yet to play.
Players to watch: It is a boost for Reds fans to see Quade Cooper back at pivot, despite Jake McIntyre’s best efforts. Cooper must grab this game by the scruff of the neck otherwise the Kings could cause them problems like they did the Force. Also key to the Reds will be flank George Smith, who becomes just the seventh player in the history of the competition and only the third Australian to hit 150 Super Rugby caps.
Last week saw the Kings put in an excellent attacking showing in Perth as they just fell short of their second of the season. One player crucial to that six-try scoring effort was captain Lionel Cronje, whose assist for Malcolm Jaer was out of the top drawer. Cronje’s been impressive as a leader this campaign and if the Kings are to be axed from Super Rugby for 2018, he deserves to continue playing at a high level.
Team news: Reds head coach Nick Stiles has made six changes to his starting side. Quade Cooper returns from a three-week suspension while Karmichael Hunt has recovered from a concussion suffered two weeks ago to start at full-back. The only other change to the backline is the promotion of Izaia Perese to starting wing, with Chris Kuridrani shifted to the bench. In the pack, hooker Alex Mafi earns his first start in Super Rugby after making his debut for Queensland off the bench last weekend. Stephen Moore is left out of the matchday 23 meaning that centre Samu Kerevi will captain the side. Lock Lukhan Tui has earned his first start of the 2017 season, in place of Kane Douglas, who is on the bench. The other change to the forwards sees Japanese Test player Hendrik Tui return to the blindside flank ahead of Adam Korczyk.
The Southern Kings will be without full-back Malcolm Jaer which means Masixole Banda returns to the starting XV after missing out against the Force. In the forwards, three rotational changes have been made as Chris Heiberg gets his first start of the campaign as he exchanges spots with Schalk van der Merwe at tighthead prop. In the second row, Mzwanele Zito will be getting a starting berth at number four with Irne Herbst going to the bench. Tyler Paul will also start in the number seven jersey, replacing Andisa Ntsila who will be on the bench. Justin Forwood, who was a late inclusion last weekend following the neck injury to Ross Geldenhuys, will again fill in as their tighthead.
Form: The Reds are stuck on a six-game losing streak this season as their opening round win against the Sharks has been as good as it has got. That could all change this week as they look to beat a Kings side that is in a similar boat, having won just one fixture this season and are on a five-game drought. Both franchises are averaging four tries conceded per game but the Kings have scored 36 more points.
Prediction: On paper it has to be a home victory especially with their returning players in some key positions. Reds to win by 20 points.
Previous results: Yet to play.
Reds: 15 Karmichael Hunt, 14 Izaia Perese, 13 Samu Kerevi (c), 12 Duncan Paia’aua, 11 Eto Nabul, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 James Tuttle, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 George Smith, 6 Hendrik Tui, 5 Lukhan Tui, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Sam Talakai, 2 Alex Mafi, 1 Sef Fa’agase
Replacements: 16 Andrew Ready, 17 Kirwan Sanday, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Kane Douglas, 20 Adam Korczyk, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Hamish Stewart, 23 Chris Kuridrani
Kings: 15 Masixole Banda, 14 Yaw Penxe, 13 Berton Klaasen, 12 Luzuko Vulindlu, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Lionel Cronje (c), 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Ruaan Lerm, 7 Tyler Paul, 6 Chris Cloete, 5 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 4 Mzwanele Zito, 3 Justin Forwood, 2 Michael Willemse, 1 Chris Heiberg
Replacements: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Schalk van der Merwe, 18 Dayan van der Westhuizen, 19 Irne Herbst, 20 Andisa Ntsila, 21 Johan Steyn, 22 Wandile Mjekevu, 23 Pieter-Steyn de Wet
Date: Saturday, April 15
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Kick-off: 17:05 local (05:05 GMT)
Referee: Quinton Immelman
Assistant Referees: Rasta Rasivhenge, Damon Murphy
TMO: Damien Mitchelmore