Faingaa back for Reds
Reds defensive linchpin Anthony Faingaa returns from injury at outside centre for Friday's Super Rugby clash against the Melbourne Rebels at AAMI Park.
The injection of the talented 26-year-old in this crucial Australian derby is a major boost for the Reds with Faingaa fully recovered from the hand injury he sustained during the team's opening trial game of 2013 against the Blues in February.
Faingaa is one of three changes made by Director of Coaching Ewen McKenzie with scrum-half Nick Frisby earning his first Super Rugby starting role and Jono Lance coming into full-back.
Frisby will receive his first start with all 12 of his previous Super Rugby caps coming as a replacement from the bench.
During his nine-game Super Rugby career, Lance has started at both centre positions and at full-back although the last time he wore the number 15 jersey was in Queensland's historic Super Rugby final triumph in 2011.
In that year, Lance was the Reds starting full-back in his first four career Super Rugby matches following his debut against the Western Force in Round 17.
McKenzie said the Reds would benefit from Faingaa's return in all facets of their game.
"Anthony's an experienced player that brings a lot of the energy to the group with his enthusiasm and leadership, so we're happy he is healthy once again," McKenzie said.
"We've been deliberately conscious not to rush his injury but at the same time he has been training strongly with the group for more than a fortnight now and we are confident he will add another dimension to our performance.
"Ben Lucas was given additional time to recover from his shoulder injury and has done well enough to convince us to put him on the bench. But, being a shortened week with the Friday game, we've been preparing with Nick at scrumhalf since Monday so he gets the chance to start.
"In the end, Nick and Ben have both received significant game time this year, so the expectation is that they'll continue to do the things they do well irrespective of who begins the game.
"Jono is a proven performer at fullback and was excellent throughout the 2011 Finals Series at the position, so we have no hesitations about giving him an opportunity there.
"He was also a standout in the Reds College XV match over the weekend and we are all about rewarding strong performance."
Slipper will captain the Reds for a fourth straight match as part of an unchanged starting forward pack which includes fellow prop Greg Holmes and hooker Saia Faingaa in the front-row; Ed O'Donoghue and Rob Simmons in the second row; and young trio Jake Schatz, Liam Gill and Eddie Quirk in the back-row.
Frisby joins Quade Cooper in the halves; Anthony Faingaa combines with Ben Tapuai in the centres; and Digby Ioane and Dom Shipperley remain on the wings.
The Reds are undefeated against the Melbourne Rebels in their short four-game Super Rugby history with a 53-3 win at Suncorp Stadium in their inaugural season in 2011 both the most points scored and largest winning margin by the Reds in the competition.
Reds: 15 Jono Lance, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Anthony Faingaa, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Nick Frisby; 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Ed Quirk, 5 Ed O'Donoghue, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 James Slipper, 2 Saia Faingaa, 1 Greg Holmes.
Replacements: 16 James Hanson, 17 Albert Anae, 18 Adam Wallace-Harrison, 19 Radike Samo, 20 Ben Lucas, 21 Mike Harris, 22 Chris Feauai-Sautia.
Date: Friday, March 8
Kick-off: 19:40 local (08:40 GMT)
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne
Referee: Francisco Pastrana (Argentina)
Assistant referees: James Leckie (Australia), Ed Martin (Australia)
Television match official: George Ayoub (Australia)