Liam Gill makes a welcome return for the Reds. Image courtesy of theaustralian.com.au/Getty Images
The Queensland Reds have been ravaged by injury this week, but some troops are coming back in at the right time for the clash with the winless Highlanders in Dunedin. Backline strike weapons Digby Ioane (knee) and Chris Feauai-Sautia (thigh) will both miss the game, but should be right to take on the Chiefs after a bye in the next round. Hooker Saia Fainga’a has joint inflammation in his neck, centre Mike Harris has a hand injury, while back-up scrum-half Nick Frisby rolled his ankle at training mid-week. All three will also miss the trip to the south of New Zealand.
Young gun flanker Liam Gill has picked a good time to return to the squad after a layoff due to a medial cruciate ligament injury while some experience comes on to the bench. ‘Rocket’ Rod Davies returns after missing a lot of 2012 due to shoulder and knee operations, Ben Lucas returns from a shoulder injury, while ex-Wallaby prop Ben Daley is back following an early-season calf strain.
After declaring he’ll leave Ballymore at the end of the season, this Friday Ewen McKenzie becomes the most capped coach in Super Rugby history. The man he replaces at the top is Robbie Deans, and it’s no secret McKenzie would love a crack at his current job as coach of the Wallabies.
The Highlanders haven’t qualified for the finals since 2002, and in 2012 they lost one of their great advantages, playing in atrocious weather conditions at Carisbrook, the ground affectionately known by Kiwis as the ‘House of Pain’. They now play in ‘The Glasshouse’, otherwise known as Forsyth Barr Stadium, a fully-enclosed stadium with a transparent roof. It provides plenty of comfort for fans, but it’s nowhere near as intimidating as Carisbrook. Last year the Highlanders went 5-3 at home with six of those games decided by less than a converted try. In 2013 they’ve lost their first three under the roof, going down to the Chiefs 41-27 , South Africa’s Cheetahs by 19 points and the Hurricanes in a four-point nailbiter.
The Reds’ record in Dunedin is appaling, though. They’ve lost all seven matches they’ve played there in Super Rugby, including a 24-19 loss in 2009 on their last visit. Queensland won the teams’ only encounter in 2012 getting up 19-13 in a tight tussle at Suncorp Stadium.
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