The Reds and Brumbies have both unveiled selection surprises for Saturday’s Super Rugby AU grand final.
SUPER RUGBY AU GRAND FINAL
REDS vs BRUMBIES, Saturday 7.45pm AEST at Suncorp Stadium
Reds coach Brad Thorn has sprung a major selection surprise for Saturday’s Super Rugby AU grand final, dropping captain Liam Wright to the bench and reinstating James O’Connor as skipper.
Wright missed most of the season with injury but returned to the starting lineup, and the captaincy, against the Force a fortnight ago.
The Reds suffered their only loss of the year in that match and Thorn has opted to use loose forward Wright as a finisher on a dynamic bench that also features Alex Mafi, Seru Uru and Filipo Daugunu.
O’Connor, the fans’ pick as Super Rugby AU MVP this season, did a superb job as captain in Wright’s absence, and pulled all the right tactical reins in two thrilling comeback wins over the Brumbies.
There is no room for former NRL star Suliasi Vunivalu as he continues his comeback from a hamstring injury, with Jock Campbell edging Wallabies flyer Daugunu for a spot on the wing.
Youngster Josh Flook, who was impressive in the round eight win over the Brumbies, replaces the injured Hunter Paisami at outside centre while Wright’s demotion frees up a spot in the pack for lock Ryan Smith.
Angus Scott-Young switches from the second row to his preferred position of blindside flanker.
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“Grand final week – how good,” Thorn said.
“This is why you play the game.
“We’re looking forward to a big game of rugby in front of a packed Suncorp Stadium.
“The Brumbies are a tough opponent. They’re the defending premiers.
“They’ve been the competition benchmark now for a number of years. We’re expecting another a tough contest against them.”
Meanwhile, the Brumbies have been dealt a double injury blow with Wallabies forwards James Slipper and Pete Samu both ruled out.
Coach Dan McKellar does have the luxury of naming Test veteran Scott Sio in place of Slipper at loosehead prop while 2.06m giant Nick Frost is an interesting selection at blindside.
The recently re-signed Rob Valetini switches from No.6 to the back of the scrum.
“To most people Frosty would be considered a lock but we’ve always seen him as someone who can develop into a six,” McKellar said.
“He’s tall but he’s a real athlete and quick so he can do some damage out there.”
Wallabies squad member Lachlan Lonergan starts at hooker ahead of Folau Fainga’a while loose forward Henry Stowers is in line to make his Brumbies debut off the bench after being plucked out of the Shute Shield recently.
“I was amazed Henry wasn’t signed by anyone across the globe,” McKellar said.
“I thought he was outstanding last year for the Force and he’s worked hard to get himself in Super Rugby shape over the last few weeks and he’ll be good for us.
“If you can’t get motivated for Saturday night you’re in the wrong game.
“We know Queensland are the favourites, and deservedly so.
“We’ve just got to get our game right and go up there to enjoy what’s a really special occasion.”
REDS (15-1): Bryce Hegarty, Jordan Petaia, Josh Flook, Hamish Stewart, Jock Campbell, James O’Connor (c), Tate McDermott, Harry Wilson, Fraser McReight, Angus Scott-Young, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Ryan Smith, Taniela Tupou, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Feao Fotuaika
Reserves: Alex Mafi, Dane Zander, Zane Nonggorr, Seru Uru, Liam Wright, Kalani Thomas, Isaac Henry, Filipo Daugunu
BRUMBIES (15-1): Tom Banks, Andy Muirhead, Len Ikitau, Irae Simone, Tom Wright, Noah Lolesio, Nic White, Rob Valetini, Rory Scott, Nick Frost, Cadeyrn Neville, Darcy Swain, Allan Alaalatoa (c), Lachlan Lonergan, Scott Sio
Reserves: Folau Fainga’a, Harry Lloyd, Tom Ross, Henry Stowers, Luke Reimer, Ryan Lonergan, Reesjan Pasitoa, Mack Hansen
Referee: Nic Berry
SUPER RUGBY AOTEAROA GRAND FINAL
CRUSADERS vs CHIEFS, Saturday 5.05pm AEST at Orangetheory Stadium
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe