Reds lock Rob Simmons will play his first game of the 2015 season on Saturday when the Brisbane-based side face the Bulls in Pretoria.
Simmons, who returns after a shoulder injury, is one of six personnel changes to the starting side that took on the Rebels in Melbourne last week.
Simmons replaces James Horwill, who is serving a one-week suspension for striking. Saia Fainga’a returns to the starting side, with James Hanson moved to the bench. Injury to Jake Schatz has forced a shuffle in the back row, with Curtis Browning starting at blindside flanker and Adam Thomson shifting to number eight.
In the backs, injury to Quade Cooper means Nick Frisby resumes the role of starting flyhalf. A recurrence of a calf injury has ruled out James O’Connor, meaning Lachie Turner shifts to the wing and Karmichael Hunt returns to the starting lineup at fullback.
Reds head coach Richard Graham said: “It’s good to have Rob (Simmons) back. It has been a frustrating injury for him. He hasn’t played a game now since late November last year. It can be difficult to put a timeline on recovery for a nerve injury, but the staff and he have worked together very well to ensure they get the process right and Rob can return confident in his body.
“Karmichael (Hunt) has trained with the team for the past few weeks and played about 20 minutes last weekend. He hasn’t said a great deal but I can tell he is really looking forward to getting into the game from the start. He is an excellent communicator and having him involved will assist Will (Genia) and Nick (Frisby) with the shape of our game.”
“James (O’Connor) has suffered another calf strain. He got through the Rebels match but after the flight he pulled up tight and sore. It is obviously not ideal given we were starting to get the playing squad back to full health but we don’t expect it’ll keep him out for a long period.”
Graham has named six forwards and two backs on the reserves bench, with Reds Elite Development Squad member Adam Korczyk a chance to make his debut.
“We have gone with a six-two split on the bench this weekend. I believe it’ll assist the way tactically we want to play the game and should give us some good run at the back end.
“Adam (Korczyk) was recently named Player of the Tournament at the National U20s carnival. I have been impressed with his progression through the National Rugby Championship and into training with the Reds in 2015. He is a quiet young lad but he is a strong contributor to the team around training and I like his approach. Should he get an opportunity, he’ll be the 13th debutant this season."
Reds: 15 Karmichael Hunt, 14 Lachie Turner, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Anthony Fainga’a, 11 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 10 Nick Frisby, 9 Will Genia, 8 Adam Thomson, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Curtis Browning, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Dave McDuling, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 Saia Fainga’a, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 James Hanson, 17 Ben Daley, 18 Sef Faagase, 19 Marco Kotze, 20 Tom Murday, 21 Adam Korczyk, 22 Ben Tapuai, 23 Chris Kuridrani.
Date: Saturday, April 11
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Kick-off: 19:10 local (17:10 GMT, 03:10 AEST, 05:10 NZST)
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Quinton Immelman, Pro Legoete (both South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)