Round 2 of the domestic Super Rugby competition and the debut for the men from the west. The ACT Brumbies get the weekend off whilst the Reds and Rebels meet halfway at the home of the Manly Sea Eagles, Brookvale Oval.
Brad Thorn named an unchanged 23 for Friday's night match at Brookvale with lock Angus Blyth passing all of the HIA protocols in order to take his spot. The Reds toughed it out well against the Tahs' last week, 2 late penalty goals from James O'Connor sealing a 6-point victory. The young back row of skipper Liam Wright, on-baller Fraser McReight and Harry Wilson at 8, get their second starting gig together in what seemingly will be a dominant combination this year and beyond. Good stability in the Reds and they'll naturally better for last week's hit out against NSW.
The Rebels have made the 1 change, welcoming back Campbell Magnay, sidelined for a mystery migraine related illness. Magnay's return pushes Reece Hodge to the bench with Andrew Deegan dropping out of the 23. Hodge, dealing this his own injuries according to coach Dave Wessels, provides good spark and versatility off the Melbourne bench but it begs the question, why is he playing if he's injured?
I think we like this new James O'Connor
The battle here is between the 10's. O'Connor vs Toomua. On their day, they are elite, if either are contained by the opposition, their respective sides will struggle and they certainly hold the key to winning. I am backing the young Reds pack to dominate the Rebels and provide front foot ball for O'Connor, who will be hoping for a better general field kicking game this Friday.
I think this will be tight, but tipping the Reds to win by 8.
In the other game, the Waratahs take on the Western Force. That's right, they're finally back in Australian Super Rugby, I can just picture Greg Clark belting that out on Saturday night right now as both sides run on to the SCG.
The big in for the Waratahs? Karmichael Hunt. Hunt has been named to start on the bench in his return, with the Waratahs starting XV unchanged. They got into a nice arm-wrestle with the Reds last week at Suncorp Stadium, expect them to be better again against a Force side full of energy and excitement. It's been a long wait and coach Tim Sampson hasn't mucked around, rushing in new signing Jono Lance to flyhalf, whilst Greg Holmes and Kyle Godwin will start from the bench. Winger Byron Ralston gets his first Super Rugby start on the wing for the Force, forming part of a fairly inexperienced backline.
I think this one will go according to the following script. Tight early, the Force coming out with an aggressive brand of football, full of passion and intent, but the class and the experience of the Waratahs will prevail. Close at halftime but the Waratahs to pull away by 20+.