Preview: Reds v Rebels
The Rebels are riding high. The Reds are only looking fair-to-middling despite their wild-card position. It's hard to say who's likely to win this one.
Logically, the Reds should start this match as favourites but the Rebels have looked good in recent weeks and shouldn't be written off in Brisbane.
The Rebels, fresh off the back of consecutive wins, are reinvigorated. They've been competitive despite the loss of James O'Connor and Kurtley Beale. Their forwards are have vigorously contested the breakdown against highly fancied opposition.
The ability to build sustained possession and tackle effectively has taken them from near misses to victors, and they'll carry their form into Friday's game against the Reds.
The Reds have returned from South Africa winless. Their last win was against the Sharks at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane three weeks ago. They lost to the Cheetahs, falling well-short, losing 27-13.
Their loss against the defensively focussed Stormers saw them score no tries, carried by the boot of Quade Cooper who mustered all their points with five penalty goals.
The Reds will view the game against the Rebels as a chance to right the ledger. With the Blues and the Hurricanes breathing down their neck the Reds need some clean air. They sit equal fourth on the overall table with the Cheetahs.
The Reds need some clean air. Against the Rebels, only a four-try bonus point win will be acceptable. While they have a bye the following round, the Reds will find their season on hold as the Australian test window opens for the British and Irish Lions. They'll want a hefty bump up the standgins before the break.
The Reds brand of rugby hinges around the it's principal playmakers Will Genia and Cooper. Scrum-half and fly-half respectively, they provide they provide much of the tactical nous. Genia's quick crisp service, and Cooper's ability to create time and space are key to their success.
Their backline is stocked with plenty of powerful ball runners; most notably Luke Morahan, Ben Tapuai although Anthony Fainga'a has been their most consistent performer in recent weeks.
The gameplan from the Reds will be simple; chip away at the Rebels at the breakdown and draw in the loose-forwards, use their powerful inside runners like Anthony Faingaa and Chris Feauai-Sautia around early and spread the ball wide.
The Rebels personnel have finally solidified as a unit but may still be prone to inconsistency. The forwards have become cohesive and confident under the leadership of Scott Higginbotham. Their front row of Nic Henderson, Ged Robinson and Laurie Weeks stepped up to repel a Waratahs front-row laden with Wallabies.
The Rebels have rushed O'Connor back into their line-up. Throwing out the maxim of "never change a winning line-up" O'Connor returns to fly-half relegating Bryce Hegarty to the bench.
The Reds have made five changes to their team from last round. Ed Quirk and Beau Robinson will respectively play on the blindside and openside scrum. Tapuai retuns to the run on side, replacing Chris Feauai-Sautia who hurt a hamstring. Ben Lucas, who normally fulfils a playmaking role, slots in as fullb-ack for Jono Lance who has a neck injury.
The Rebels defensive, which has been questionable in the past, has finally firmed up. Against the Waratahs last week they held out for 22 consecutive phases before clearing. They'll need a similarly courageous effort.
The last time these sides, met the Reds won two tries to one, but the difference was the Rebels' lack of discipline and Cooper's solid goal-kicking.
Super head-to-head: James O'Connor v Quade Cooper. Cooper is the natural playmaker while O'Connor is more a finisher turned inside man. Both are bedazzling players who can ignite their sides but in a head to head Cooper will win the attacking stakes. In defence O'Connor will have the upper hand. Wallabies coach Robbie Deans has commented publicly on his want for Cooper to defend in the first line rather than full-back. O'Connor will be somewhat underdone being rushed back from injury but will seek to step around his Wallabies team mate. Expext fireworks.
Prediction: The Reds will out-play the Rebels. Their depth is greater and their talent is a step above. That said, the Rebels are playing with enthusiasm and raw energy. They might be out-played by the Reds, but they won't be outclassed. Reds by 7 points.
Reds: 15 Ben Lucas, 14 Rod Davies, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Anthony Faingaa, 11 Luke Morahan, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Beau Robinson, 6 Ed Quirk, 5 James Horwill (capt), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 James Slipper, 2 James Hanson,1 Greg Holmes.
Replacements: 16 Saia Faingaa, 17 Ben Daley, 18 Ed O'Donoghue,19 Radike Samo, 20 Liam Gill, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Mike Harris.
Rebels: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Tom English, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Rory Sidey, 11 Lachlan Mitchell, 10 James O'Connor, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Scott Higginbotham (c), 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Jarrod Saffy, 5 Luke Jones, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Nic Henderson.
Replacements: 16 Shota Horie, 17 Paul Alo-Emile, 18 Cadeyrn Neville, 19 Gareth Delve, 20 Nic Stirzaker, 21 Bryce Hegarty, 22 Kimami Sitauti.
Date: Saturday, June 1
Kick-off: 19:40 local (10:40 BST, 09:40 GMT)
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Referee: James Leckie (Australia)
Assistant referees: Rohan Hoffmann (Australia), Damien Mitchelmore (Australia)
Television match official: Steve Leszczynski (Australia)