The boots of Ayumu Goromaru and Jono Lance could determine the outcome of Saturday's match between the Reds and Force in Brisbane, writes MARIETTE ADAMS.
The Reds lost 30-10 to the Waratahs in Sydney last weekend, while the Force were beaten 25-19 by the Rebels in Perth. While it's still too early to tell, this game, and the return fixture in Perth later, could turn out to be the basement battle in the Australian conference.
There was little evidence in Sydney to suggest that the Reds have turned the tide since their abysmal showing in 2015. Coach Richard Graham's men looked a disjointed side and will be tested against a Force outfit who showed some resilience in their clash with the Rebels.
The Reds completed the double over the Force last year, but that was with a team built around the likes of Quade Cooper, Will Genia and James Horwill, who've all since moved to European clubs. Yet these teams were separated by only three log points at the end of the season.
On Saturday, Michael Foley's men will be looking to improve their wretched record in Brisbane by pinning their hopes on Lance, a former Queenslander.
Lance was outstanding against the Rebels last weekend and was his side's sole point-scorer with a converted try and four penalties. The 25-year-old, who won the Super Rugby title with the Reds and Waratahs, maintained a perfect place-kicking record, and if he is on form again, his accuracy off the tee could be what sees the Force through.
The Reds, who left a few points out on the field due to missed kicks, have drafted Goromaru, the Japan fullback, into the startling lineup to challenge Lance in the kicking stakes.
It should be a good contest between the two, but with Goromaru still settling into his new environment and Lance's familiarity with conditions of his old stomping ground, the Force go into this game with an edge over the hosts, but only just.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Reds 8, Force 6, Draw 1
In Brisbane: Reds 6, Force 2
STATS AND FACTS
– The Reds were victorious in both matches between these teams in the 2015 season, though they failed to win any of the five matches prior (drawn one, lost four).
– The Force won their last away game in the competition in the final round of 2015, having lost six in a row on the road before that.
– Four of the Force's last six matches against Australian opposition have been decided by seven points or fewer.
– The Reds (19 minutes and 21 seconds) enjoyed almost 20 minutes of time in possession in round one, the most of any team but only 24 seconds more than the Force managed.
– The Force were one of only three teams (Stormers and Bulls) to be faultless with the boot in the opening round as they slotted all five of their place kicks in the match (one conversions and four penalties).
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Reds||Jake McIntyre, Ayumu Goromaru (5)||Jake McIntyre (1)||Nick Frisby (69)||Chris Feauai-Sautia (19)|
|Force||Jono Lance (19)||Jono Lance (1)||Dane Haylett-Petty (118)||Matt Hodgson (17)|
Reds – 15 Ayumu Goromaru, 14 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Karmichael Hunt, 11 Eto Nabuli, 10 Jake McIntyre, 9 Nick Frisby, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Curtis Browning, 6 Hendrik Tui, 5 Rob Simmons (c), 4 Cadeym Neville, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 Saia Fainga’a, 1 Ben Daley.
Subs:16 Andrew Ready, 17 Sef Fa’agase, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Ben Matwijow, 20 Michael Gunn, 21 Scott Gale, 22 Sam Greene, 23 Junior Laloifi.
Force – 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Solomoni (Junior Rasolea), 11 Semisi Masirewa, 10 Jono Lance, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Angus Cottrell, 7 Matt Hodgson, 6 Brynard Stander, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Steve Mafi, 3 Guy Millar, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pekahou Cowan.
Subs: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Chris Heiberg, 18 Jermaine Ainsley, 19 Ross Haslett-Petty, 20 Ben McCalman, 21 Ian Prior, 22 Peter Grant, 23 Marcel Brache.
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Nic Berry (Australia), Damien Mitchelmore (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)
Photo: Matt King/Getty Images