Super Rugby Preview: Reds

Date published: February 17 2016

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Before the start of Super Rugby 2016 we take a closer look at each of the sides in the competition. Next up, the Reds.

Looking to arrest their steady decline since lifting the Super Rugby title in 2011, the Reds will be fielding a drastically different squad to the one we've become used to seeing in recent times.

Gone are stalwarts of the franchise such as Will Genia, Quade Cooper, James Horwill and Beau Robinson along with experienced heads like Lachie Turner, James O'Connor, James Hanson, Ben Tapuai and Adam Thomson.

After the departure of those players, 2016 on paper feels like a season for the Reds to hit the refresh button and to unearth the next fleet of young talent to lead the franchise forward under low expectations. By doing that they might just spring a surprise or two.

Last Year: Speculation over the future of head coach Richard Graham and a number of leading players like Genia and Cooper didn't help the Reds, especially given the porousness of their defence.

Graham came under heavy fire for the Reds' dire run of results and former Australia boss John Connolly was hired in May as a consultant to try and stem the tide of defeats.

An opening weekend 47-3 pummelling at the hands of the Brumbies was a sign of things to come and the Reds went on to lose 29-0 at home to the same opponent in Round 5, those results coming either side of a win over the Force and losses to the Highlanders and Waratahs. 

A run of four straight defeats was broken with a one-point victory against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein in Round 10 but the Reds struggled for consistency in their final games, suffering heavy losses (31-5 to the Waratahs, 24-3 to the Chiefs, 58-17 against the Crusaders) to go with wins over the Rebels and Force.

Statistically the Reds only managed to score 32 tries, the third lowest total, but they did finish with the best lineout success percentage in the competition.

This Year: Graham was made to reapply for his job before signing a new one-year deal with the Reds during the off-season. This time around however he will be assisted by former Leicester and Leinster coach Matt O'Connor, who has returned to Australia, and All Blacks great Brad Thorn.

Early on the Reds' biggest problem looks to be covering the loss of those veterans. A number of Wallabies remain upfront in new signing Kane Douglas, Greg Holmes, Rob Simmons and Liam Gill, but it's in the backs where without Genia and Cooper – who admittedly were far from at their best in 2015 – that the Reds are looking for answers. 

James Tuttle is promoted to the senior squad after a good showing in the National Rugby Championship while Jake McIntyre, Sam Greene and Duncan Paia'aua were barely exposed to Super Rugby last season with Cooper sidelined. The Reds have to build a settled combination at half-back early on if they want to be considered as a threat.

Fixtures with the Rebels, Force, Sunwolves and Cheetahs will be targeted as possible victories but the absence of their captain James Slipper well into the season because of shoulder surgery is a major setback.

The best case scenario would be to start well, build confidence within a young group and get them to play with a chip on their shoulder.

Key Players: The signing of Japan star Ayumu Goromaru has been the blockbuster move of the off-season. Goromaru's impressive run of games at the Rugby World Cup included plenty of threat when running with the ball in hand, but his goal-kicking was also absolutely vital, especially in the shock win over South Africa. The Reds will need that accuracy off the tee throughout the season if they are to cause upsets and the 29-year-old arrives with pressure on his shoulders to deliver.

Goromaru might be the flashier recruit but bringing in Kane Douglas to partner Rob Simmons is a smart move. Douglas made himself a starter in the Wallabies pack during the World Cup and Cheika's favoured second row pairing should be able to keep the Reds' lineout near the top of the charts, whilst Douglas adds real weight to their scrum.

Players to Watch: He might only be 22 but Chris Feauai-Sautia is one of the most experienced players in the Reds' backline, not to mention also a Wallaby. Feauai-Sautia now has to become a focal point of the Reds' attack along with Samu Kerevi. Karmichael Hunt's horrendous first season is behind him and he appears set for a midfield role following Goromaru's arrival at full-back. 

If he gets a chance, then the 19-year-old 'Tongan Thor', Taniela Tupou, could prove to be another crowd-pleaser with his explosive ball carrying.

Prospects: The Reds appear to be outgunned by the strengths of the Waratahs and Brumbies, while the Rebels have made real improvements on and off the field over the last 12 months, leaving the Reds set to finish down the lower half of the table this year. The jury remains out on Graham's retention as head coach and like their boss, the Reds have it all to prove.

Players In: Taniela Tupou (Queensland Country), Kane Douglas (Leinster), Ben Matwijow (Canterbury), Caderyn Neville (Rebels), Lukhan Tui (Queensland Country), James Tuttle (Queensland Country), Lagi Steu (Queensland Country), Junior Laloifi (Brisbane City, Eto Nabuli (St. George Illawarra Dragons), Izaia Perese (Queensland Country), Ayumu Goromaru (Yamaha Jubilo)

Players Out: James Hanson (Rebels), James Horwill (Harlequins), David McDuling (Sharks), Tom Murday (Agen), Will Genia (Stade Français), Quade Cooper (Toulon), Sam Johnson (Glasgow Warriors), Ben Tapuai (Force), Brad Wilkin (Waratahs), Marco Kotze (Agen), Ed Quirk (Sunwolves), Adam Thomson (Rebels), Beau Robinson (Harlequins), Lachie Turner (Exeter), James O'Connor (Toulon)

Fixtures:

Saturday, 27 February v Waratahs (Allianz Stadium, Sydney)
Saturday, 5 March v Force (Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane)
Saturday, 12 March v Rebels (AAMI Park, Melbourne)
Saturday, 19 March v Blues (Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane)
Sunday, 27 March v Waratahs (Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane)
Round 6: BYE
Saturday, 9 April v Highlanders (Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane)
Saturday, 16 April v Bulls (Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria)
Saturday, 23 April v Stormers (Newlands, Cape Town)
Saturday, 30 April v Cheetahs (Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane)
Friday, 6 May v Crusaders (AMI Stadium, Christchurch)
Saturday, 14 May v Hurricanes (Westpac Stadium, Wellington)
Saturday, 21 May v Sunwolves (Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane)
Round 14: BYE
Friday, 1 May v Brumbies (GIO Stadium, Canberra)
Friday, 8 July v Chiefs (Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane)
Friday, 15 July v Rebels (Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane)

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