Preview: Reds v B&I Lions
Preview: Reds v B&I LionsSHARE
Flyhalf Quade Cooper will make a final case for Wallaby selection when he leads the Reds against the British and Irish Lions Saturday in what is shaping as the tourists' biggest test so far.
Australia coach Robbie Deans will be in the stands in Brisbane as the unpredictable Cooper does his best to halt the Lions' increasing momentum ahead of the three-Test series starting on June 22.
The Lions have cruised to crushing victories over the Barbarians and Western Force, totting up 17 tries, as they build towards the games against Australia when they will seek their first Test series win since 1997.
The Reds, 2011 Super Rugby champions, may be without seven current national squad members, but they have named their best available players, including nine capped Wallabies in a strong starting line-up.
Lions captain Sam Warburton will make his debut after missing the first two games with a knee injury, but Cooper will be the man in focus as he bids to force his way into Deans' final Test squad to be announced on Tuesday.
Cooper, who was fined and suspended after publicly criticising Deans last year, was left out of the preliminary squad of 25 in a move which provoked debate among Australian fans and media.
"Quade is a proven winner and real facilitator of success here at the Reds and the reality is that we win more games with him in the side," said Reds head coach Ewen McKenzie.
Deans has called for the mercurial Cooper to be more assertive in defence and attack, and he will need to pull out a big game against England's Owen Farrell to enhance his selection chances.
Warburton was in no doubt about Cooper's qualities and he said the Lions would face a challenge of a different order to their straightforward wins in Hong Kong and Perth.
"[Cooper] is an outstanding player with great footwork and I'm sure he'll pose a different threat at No.10 than what we've faced in the last two weeks," Warburton said.
"He'll definitely be an attacking threat and that's what you want to test your defence."
Warburton will also want to hit the ground running he joins compatriots Toby Faletau and Dan Lydiate in an-all Welsh back row after recovering from a knee ligament strain.
Warburton said he needed quickly to hit form to secure his Test spot following outstanding performances by Justin Tipuric and Sean O'Brien in the number seven jersey in the opening tour games.
"All the back-rowers have done exceptionally well, which makes selection very difficult," he said.
"I've been thinking about this game for quite a while, it can't come quick enough, and I'm desperate to get out on the pitch."
Warburton will be one of six players to make their run-on tour debuts, with prop Gethin Jenkins, English brothers Tom and Ben Youngs, prop Matt Stevens and lock Geoff Parling all getting their first starts.
Queensland were the last Australian state team to beat the Lions in 1971, a fact used as motivation by McKenzie ahead of Saturday's game.
"We've spoken as a group about the significance of these opportunities and there isn't a player out there who wouldn't want to replicate the heroics of the 1971 Queensland side," he said.
"History suggests that's a mammoth challenge, but we'll go out there on Saturday with plenty of good intentions and with a commitment to giving a strong account of ourselves across the entire 80 minutes."
The Lions' Irish prop Cian Healy is out with an ankle injury, but he also avoided a lengthy ban on Friday when he was cleared of biting scrumhalf Brett Sheehan during Wednesday's game against Western Force.
Players to watch:
For the Reds: Well, there is no doubt Quade Cooper is the man in the spotlight. As they say in that classic cliché: He has his future in his own hands. You can also look at the attacking prowess of players like Rod Davies and Anthony Faingaa, while Nick Frisby gets a huge opportunity at scrumhalf. The key for the Reds will be their tight five and than the workload of the loose trio – Jake Schatz, Beau Robinson and Eddie Quirk.
For the British and Irish Lions: All 22 of the Lions are on 'trial', but key positions are in the midfield – Manu Tuilagi and Jonathan Davies – and at halfback, flyhalf Owen Farrell and scrumhalf Ben Youngs.
Head to head: The most exciting if the many duels will be at flyhalf – Quade Cooper (Reds) versus Owen Farrell (B&I Lions). They are extremely talented players, complicated personalities and both prone to the occasional brain explosion. The Lions' scrum power could also come into play, with the Reds front row of Greg Holmes, James Hanson and Ben Daley likely to feel the heat from Matt Stevens, Tom Youngs and Mako Vunipola.
2001: B&I Lions won 42-8, Brisbane
1989: B&I Lions won 19-15, Brisbane
1971: Reds won 15-11, Brisbane
1966: B&I Lions won 26-3, Brisbane
1959: B&I Lions won 39-11, Brisbane
1930: B&I Lions won 26-16, Brisbane
1908: B&I Lions won 20-3, Brisbane
1908: B&I Lions won 11-8, Brisbane
1904: B&I Lions won 24-5, Brisbane
1904: B&I Lions won 17-3, Brisbane
Prediction: The Reds will no doubt put up far more resistance than the diluted Western Force did in midweek, but we still expect a comfortable win for the tourists – the B&I Lions to win by 15 to 20 points.
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.
British and Irish 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 (captain), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Matt Stevens, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Richard Hibbard, 17 Dan Cole, 18 Alun Wyn Jones, 19 Paul O'Connell, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Jonathan Sexton, 23 George North.
Date: Saturday, June 8
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Kick-off: 19.30 (10.30 UK & Ireland time, 09.30 GMT)
Expected weather: A cool day, with showers expected and afternoon clouds. High of 21°C and a low of 15°C
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Garratt Williamson (New Zealand)
TMO: TBC (New Zealand)
AFP & rugby365