Preview: Reds v Lions
The Reds are the next obstacle put in front of the 2013 Lions but instead of barging through it (like the previous two) this hurdle requires greater care.
After what some called the farce against the Force, Warren Gatland's men now face Ewen McKenzie's charges in what will be a real test.
This, with the Brumbies clash being a close second, will undoubtedly be the hardest game facing the Lions outside the Test series as the Reds remain in the possession of international names such as Quade Cooper, Ben Tapuai, Anthony Faingaa and Radike Samo. Out of interest they are missing James Horwill, Rob Simmons, Digby Ioane, Will Genia, Liam Gill, James Slipper and Saia Faingaa, who are currently in camp with the Wallabies preparing.
Because of the inclusion of Cooper and others, the Reds are sure to create a much closer game than the last time these two clashed, in 2001.
Rewinding those 12 years and this was the fixture the Lions emphatically announced they meant business as Martin Johnson and Jonny Wilkinson made their tour bows in a first-half that was one of the best on tour. Wilkinson directed matters and combined superbly with Brian O'Driscoll while Richard Hill, Keith Wood and Dan Luger were also prominent. In fact, the showing in that first 40 was close to faultless. Gatland will hope for something similar.
One area that does need some work in 2013 is the defence as cracks appeared against the Force, Sean O'Brien racing up off his own try-line to create a dog-leg that led to Richard Brown's try standing out. Tightening up those facets should come as the tour progresses.
Gatland once again opts for easing playing relationships together as a trend of keeping countrymen close sees a Welsh back-row of Dan Lydiate, Toby Faletau and Sam Warburton blooded. This will be Warburton's Lions debut and as skipper he will look to follow Justin Tipuric and O'Brien's lead by putting in a strong showing. At present, the locks and back-row have been impressive but on Saturday they face their first real examination against this XV.
Make no mistake, Jake Schatz and Ed Quirk are as tough as they come and the latter has more than held his own as a replacement for the now-Rebel Scott Higginbotham. Openside flank Beau Robinson is still in the process of returning from injury and can lose his cool at times, as a yellow card for punching illustrated that against the Rebels in a recent outing. There is also a former Ulster and Leinster lock in their midst as Ed O'Donoghue starts.
But for the Lions this match is all about building momentum and continuing their team oriented gameplan, with the 2013 half-backs seemingly being informed that wingers will offer regular options as we have seen so far from George North and Tommy Bowe. That duo, who are right now favourites for the Test spots, are set to be continuously pressured by the free-scoring Alex Cuthbert while Sean Maitland did nothing wrong against the Baa-baas.
Consequently the Lions are in very good spirits, with a repeat of 2001's performance in Queensland now the aim as this tough game precedes what could be another one-sided affair against a Combined Country side whose lack of Super Rugby names will no doubt add further weight to midweek matches in Australia being significantly less daunting than those in New Zealand and South Africa. A point that'll surely awake our comments section.
Ones to watch:
For Reds: An impressive backline will be spearheaded by Quade Cooper, who it seems is destined not to feature in the Tests. His ability to create something out of nothing is a gift few have in world rugby and he keeps producing, despite not being given much encouragement by Robbie Deans. Keep an eye on dangerous wing duo Rod Davies and Luke Morahan while Jake Schatz does a lot of unseen work that could disrupt the Lions' momentum.
For Lions: It is pleasing to see Sam Warburton shaking off his injury and leading the 2013 tourists. The Welsh openside flanker has been praised by his team-mates for how he's led off-the-field in Australia but the greatest respect is earned on the pitch so he will be giving his all on Saturday. I am also looking forward to seeing the most mobile locks in tandem as Geoff Parling and Richie Gray combine for the first time. Both get through masses of work and if head coach Warren Gatland sides with athleticism over brawn then this could well be a dark horse second-row duo for the Tests. It's a big ask to oust the older heads though.
Head-to-head: We can't avoid the fly-half battle as Quade Cooper and Owen Farrell collide. Cooper will be like nothing Farrell has faced before in an attacking sense as the Reds man's distribution and ability to fire a flat pass at the last second always keeps defenders honest. The Australian also possesses fancy footwork so it will be a fascinating battle.
Prediction: The atmosphere at Suncorp Stadium is rarely flat so expect a Test match feel to this one. Will the Reds have enough to cause an upset? I don't think so - Lions by 10-ish!
Reds: 15 Ben Lucas, 14 Rod Davies, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Anthony Faingaa, 11 Luke Morahan, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Nick Frisby, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Beau Robinson, 6 Eddie Quirk, 5 Ed O'Donoghue, 4 Adam Wallace-Harrison, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 James Hanson, 1 Ben Daley.
Replacements: 16 Albert Anae, 17 Sam Denny, 18 Jono Owen, 19 Radike Samo, 20 Jarrad Butler, 21 Jono Lance, 22 Mike Harris, 23 Dom Shipperley.
Lions: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Jonathan Davies, 11 Tommy Bowe, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (capt), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Matt Stevens, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements: 16 Richard Hibbard, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Alun-Wyn Jones, 19 Paul O'Connell, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Jonathan Sexton, 23 George North.
Date: Saturday, June 8
Kick-off: 19:30 local (10:30 BST, 09:30 GMT)
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Garratt Williamson (New Zealand)
Television match official: tba (New Zealand)
Assessor: Scott Young/Andrew Cole (Australia)