The Highlanders should record their first win in Brisbane since 2005 when they face the Reds on Saturday, writes MARIETTE ADAMS.
Jamie Joseph's men came away with a hard-fought 32-20 win in a brutal clash with the Force last weekend that was marred by injuries on both sides. The Reds, meanwhile, enjoyed a bye after suffering a narrow 15-13 defeat to the Waratahs a fortnight ago.
While this fixture is fairly balanced, with the Highlanders winning 10 and the Reds nine of the 19 games, the Highlanders have been on the receiving end in recent times, with the Reds winning four of the last five.
However, the Highlanders should beat the Reds to clinch their first win in Brisbane in 11 years. According to SARugbymag.co.za's Opta-powered stats, the visitors have scored 13 tries more than the Reds this season, made 773 more running metres and 30 more clean breaks.
Despite a four-match losing streak that sees them rooted to the bottom of the Australasian group log, the Reds' set pieces have functioned well this season. They boast the joint-highest scrum success rate (94%) and third-highest scrum success rate (91%).
If the Reds continue to dominate at the set piece, they will keep pace with the Highlanders during the initial stages of the game. But the visitors' expansive attacking game coupled with skilful tactical kicking should be too much for the hosts to handle for the full 80 minutes.
There are two changes to the Reds starting lineup as prop James Slipper and right wing Chris Feauai-Sautia return from injury.
The Highlanders were forced to make multiple changes. Loosehead prop Brendon Edmunds (knee), flank Elliott Dixon (head laceration) and fullback Ben Smith (concussion) were ruled out of the clash and are replaced by Daniel Lienert-Brown, Luke Whitelock and Jack Wilson, who will start on the right wing with Matt Faddes moving to fullback. Lima Sopoaga is back at flyhalf, with Hayden Parker reverting to the bench. In two rotational swaps, Mark Reddish starts at No 4 lock ahead of Tom Franklin and openside flank Dan Pryor makes way for Shane Christie.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Highlanders 10, Reds 9
In Brisbane: Reds 8, Highlanders 2
STATS AND FACTS
– The Reds have won four of their last five matches against the Highlanders, though none of the last seven matches between these sides has been decided by more than a converted try.
– Anything short of victory for the Reds would see them record their longest start to a Super Rugby season without a win, eclipsing the five-game losing streak they opened the 1997 campaign with.
– The Highlanders are enjoying a five-game winning streak and a sixth straight win would equal the longest winning streak in the franchise's Super Rugby history, set from round three to round nine in 2005.
– The Highlanders are the only team so far yet to win a scrum penalty or scrum free kick on their own feed so far this season, though they've won 32 scrums outright, the fourth most of any side.
– Saia Fainga'a has made 27 successful throws from 28 attempts, giving him the second highest throw success (96.4%) of any player to have made more than 20 throws so far this season.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Reds||Jake McIntyre (41)||Jake McIntyre (2)||Eto Nabuli (302)||Jake Schatz (50)|
|Highlanders||Lima Sopoaga (54)||Matt Faddes, Ben Smith (2)||Ben Smith (409)||Shane Christie (71)|
Reds – 15 Karmichael Hunt, 14 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Anthony Fainga’a, 11 Eto Nabuli, 10 Jake McIntyre, 9 Nick Frisby, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Hendrik Tui, 5 Rob Simmons (c), 4 Cadeyrn Neville, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 Andrew Ready, 1 James Slipper (c).
Subs: 16 Saia Fainga’a, 17 Sef Fa’agase, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Ben Matwijow, 20 Curtis Browning, 21 Scott Gale, 22 Sam Greene, 23 Ayumu Goromaru.
Highlanders – 15 Matt Faddes, 14 Jack Wilson, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Rob Thompson, 11 Pat Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Liam Squire, 7 Shane Christie (c), 6 Luke Whitelock, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Mark Reddish, 3 Siosiua Halanukonuka, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Subs: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Ross Geldenhuys, 18 Josh Hohneck, 19 Tom Franklin, 20 Dan Pryor, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Hayden Parker, 23 Jason Emery.
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Paul Willams (New Zealand), Jordan Way (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)
Photo: Rob Jefferies/Getty Images