Preview: Reds v Blues
Two in-form sides will clash in Brisbane this weekend when the Reds host the Blues at Suncorp Stadium on Friday.
Despite large swatches of possession and territory against the Brumbies last weekend, the Reds only came away with a bitter-tasting 19-19 draw against their Australia Conference rivals.
Outscoring the Brumbies by three tries to one, the Reds spent too much time in the second half persisting to kick to the corner rather than taking the shots at goal on offer, principles getting in the way of points as they ultimately missed an opportunity to move top of their group.
Conceding 20 turnovers and coming away with a poor success rate at the line-out will have been the focus of Ewen McKenzie's instructions this week.
The regular flashes of brilliance from Will Genia and Digby Ioane were on show, and Anthony Faingaa nearly finished off an outstanding team try. But the young back-row trio of Ed Quirk, Liam Gill and Jake Schatz in particular deserve credit - Schatz laying down a marker with his work at the breakdown and in the line-out.
It has been a tumultuous week for the Reds given the public frustration of Ioane, but they face the Blues on the back of a four-game unbeaten streak that includes a victory over the Chiefs in Hamilton.
Strong across all the crucial percentages when it comes to success at the line-out, scrum, ruck and in defence, the Reds have found their groove and should be confident.
They face a stern test though. Sir John Kirwan has come into the Blues and worked wonders when you consider the desperate state of the side 12 months ago.
Top of the New Zealand Conference by a single point ahead of the Chiefs, Kirwan and Sir Graham Henry appear to have restored the passion and pride back into a young squad that was so obviously missing last season.
Three losses away from home have all yielded losing points, whilst the Bulls are the only side to have had any success against the Blues at home.
Only the Chiefs have scored more tries than the Blues this season in Super Rugby, but on the other side of the ball Kirwan's troops also boast one of the best defensive records in the league with 87.9 per cent of tackles made.
The change of fortunes however is not solely down to the coaching staff.
Piri Weepu looks fitter and unsurprisingly is in excellent form, whilst the impact of flanker of Steven Luatua has marked him out as a future All Black. Luatua's re-signing with the Blues this week, along with Francis Saili and Charles Piutau, highlights the fact that the Blues are moving in the right direction.
One potential area of weakness has been the line-out, where the Blues boast one of the worst success rates in the league, but out wide Frank Halai and Piutau offer real danger with five and four tries between them - nobody has made more metres or clean breaks in Super Rugby this year than Piutau.
Keeping the same 22-man squad that faced the Brumbies, hooker Saia Faingaa and prop Ben Daley are the two changes made to the Reds starting line-up.
Meanwhile, Kirwan has made just one change to his starting XV for Friday's clash as Rene Ranger starts at outside centre.
Prediction: Given the Reds aversion to taking shots at goal and the Blues wing threats, this should be high-scoring. Reds by five.
Reds: 15 Jono Lance, 14 Rod Davies, 13 Anthony Faingaa, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Ed Quirk, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 James Slipper, 2 Saia Faingaa, 1 Ben Daley.
Replacements: 16 James Hanson, 17 Greg Holmes, 18 Ed O'Donoghue, 19 Jarrad Butler, 20 Ben Lucas, 21 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 22 Dom Shipperley.
Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Rene Ranger, 12 Jackson Willison, 11 Albert Nikoro, 10 Chris Noakes, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Culum Retallick, 3 Angus Ta'avao, 2 James Parsons, 1 Tom McCartney.
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18 Ronald Raaymakers, 19 Brendon O'Connor, 20 Jamison Gibson-Park, 21 Baden Kerr, 22 Francis Saili.
Date: Friday, April 26
Kick-off: 19:40 local (10:40 BST, 09:40 GMT)
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Rohan Hoffmann (Australia), Damien Mitchelmore (Australia)
Television match official: Steve Leszczynski (Australia)