PREVIEW: Reds v Highlanders
Thursday, May 24, 2018 Lynn McConnell Getty Images
Match details: Reds v Highlanders, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane, 9.45pm (NZT) May 26, 2018
Won: Reds 10, Highlanders 11
Last time: Highlanders 40-17 Reds, Dunedin, July 14, 2017
The Reds started the season well, winning three of their first four games. After their first week loss to the Rebels (19-45) they beat the Brumbies (18-10), the Bulls (20-14) and the Jaguares (18-7). But those successes were followed by four consecutive losses to the Stormers (19-25), the Brumbies (21-45), the Waratahs (16-37) and the Chiefs (12-36). They did beat the Lions (27-22) but then lost their last two games to the Sunwolves (28-63) and the Hurricanes (34-38). The Highlanders won six of their first eight games beating the Blues (41-34h and 34-16a), the Stormers (33-15), the Crusaders (25-17), the Brumbies (43-17) and the Bulls (29-28). Their early losses were to the Hurricanes (12-29) and the Chiefs (22-27) while later the lost to the Sharks (12-38) before beating the Lions (39-27) and losing their last game 12-41 to the Waratahs.
Needing to meet their requirements regarding stand down periods for their All Blacks, the Highlanders go into the game without captain and fullback Ben Smith, No 8 Luke Whitelock, flanker Shannon Frizell and hooker Liam Coltman. Halfback Aaron Smith will be on the bench where he will be joined by Liam Squire, back from his thumb injury. But in a reverse benefit, the players' absences have allowed the Highlanders a more settled build-up in Brisbane for the game. That has meant seven of the pack who started against the Waratahs will start in Brisbane with Elliot Dixon the only player missing as the result of an elbow injury he suffered. That has seen Marino Mikaele Tu'u get a debut start while James Lentjes will start on the blindside flank, something that will give the Highlanders mobility as he operates alongside Dillon Hunt.
Statistics show that the Highlanders and Reds are the two best tackling sides in the competition. The Highlanders make an average of 149.7 tackles in a game, the most of any side, while the Reds have made 129.5. But the Reds are slightly ahead in defenders beaten at 23.2 while the Highlanders are at 21.4. The Dunedin-based side is superior in offloads with 10.5 per game, the fifth best in the competition, while the Reds are 15th at 6.1. The Highlanders have made 410.5 metres and the Reds 389.6. The Reds have also conceded more turnovers at 16.0 as opposed to 14.8 by the Highlanders. The Reds' lineout has an 87 percent efficiency compared to 83 percent for the Highlanders but they have the scrum success at 91 percent to 89 percent. However, the ruck success favours the Reds who are ranked second in the competition on 97 percent with the Highlanders on 14 percent.
As we draw closer to the playoffs, let's take a look at who would be in the quarter finals if they were held today. How's your team looking?#SuperRugby pic.twitter.com/Sr29wbCVQd— Super Rugby (@SuperRugbyNZ) May 23, 2018THE SCOOP
Breaking the Highlanders' defence will be the toughest job for the Reds. Three of the four busiest tacklers in Super Rugby play for the southern New Zealand franchise. Luke Whitelock (161), Tom Franklin (149) and Dillon Hunt (149) are joined by the Lions' Franco Mostert (152) in the heavy-duty tackle stakes.
The Reds have won five of their last seven games against the Highlanders and haven't lost back-to-back games against them since 2004-05. (Opta)
Reds: 1.JP Smith, 2.Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 3.Taniela Tupou, 4.Izack Rodda, 5.Harry Hockings, 6.Angus Scott-Young, 7.George Smith, 8.Scott Higginbotham (captain), 9.Ben Lucas, 10.Jono Lance, 11.Jordan Petaia, 12.Duncan Paia'aua, 13.Samu Kerevi, 14.Izaia Perese, 15.Hamish Stewart.
Substitutes: 16.Andrew Read, 17.Sef Fa'agase, 18.Ruan Smith, 19.Kane Douglas, 20.Caleb Timu, 21.Liam Wright, 22.Moses Sorovi, 23.Aidan Toua.
Highlanders: 1.Daniel Lienert-Brown, 2.Ash Dixon (captain), 3.Tyrel Lomax, 4.Jackson Hemopo, 5.Tom Franklin, 6.James Lentjes, 7.Dillon Hunt, 8.Marino Mikaele Tu'u, 9.Kayne Hammington, 10.Lima Sopoaga, 11.Tevita Li, 12.Teihorangi Walden, 13.Rob Thompson, 14.Waisake Naholo, 15.Josh McKay.
Substitutes: 16.Greg Pleasants-Tate, 17.Aki Seiuli, 18.Kalolo Tuiloma, 19.Josh Dickson, 20.Liam Squire, 21.Aaron Smith, 22.Josh Ioane, 23.Richard Buckman.
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