James Horwill makes his comeback to the Reds team against the Bulls. Image courtesy of news.com.au
Not even Will Genia’s return could lift the Queensland Reds out of their sluggish start to the Super Rugby season. A 3-2 record doesn’t look too bad, but the Reds simply can’t afford to drop games to sides like Western Force if they’re to see finals action. Force came at them hard and their greater enthusiasm showed in the 19-12 upset win. Surprisingly it was former All Black Alby Mathewson who won a points decision over Genia in the battle of the No. 9s, as he engineered the Perth-based team’s first win over Queensland at Suncorp Stadium.
The pieces are slowly coming together for the Reds, though. Inspirational skipper James Horwill returns from 10 months out of the game. He hasn’t played a Super Rugby game since tearing his hamstring against the Brumbies last season, then on the eve of his comeback in a trial match, he twisted his ankle in a training drill. His inclusion has somewhat offset the loss of breakdown specialist Liam Gill. Young flanker Jarrad Butler comes in to the team for Gill, and the Reds will sorely miss the latter’s pilfering power. Digby Ioane is back from suspension while Anthony Fainga’a should line up in the centres after he was a late withdrawal last week.
Championship-winning coach and current Ewen McKenzie this week announced he’ll be leaving Ballymore at the end of the season, although given his well-known ambition of coaching at international level, it shouldn’t come as any great surprise to the Reds’ playing staff. Since the former Wallaby prop took over the Reds, they have won both home games against the Bulls . They got up 19-12 in his first season in 2010 before getting home 39-30 in the side’s title-winning year. The Bulls have inflicted two of Queensland’s worth thrashings on foreign soil, though, including last year’s 61-8 beat-up of a depleted Reds team in Pretoria.
The Bulls have been on the road the past fortnight, and after a surprise 28-21 win over the in-form Blues first up, last weekend’s 41-19 thumping by the Crusaders turned in to an even greater nightmare with the loss to injury of Wynand Olivier, Akona Ndungane and Francois Hougaard. The biggest surprise was coach Frans Ludeke dropping experienced fly-half Morne Steyn to the bench with Louis Fouche – who has 96 less games of Super Rugby than the man he’s replacing – coming in to the starting line-up.
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