Queensland’s bold plan to pull off the biggest turnaround in Super rugby history suffered a major blow with the loss of Australia five-eighth Berrick Barnes.
Foxsports reports that Barnes failed an afternoon fitness test on a strained calf muscle and was ruled out of Saturday night’s clash with the Bulls at Suncorp Stadium.
The young playmaker’s injury leaves the Reds with just three starters from the team humiliated in a record 92-3 thumping by the soon-to-be champion Bulls in Pretoria last season.
Reds coach Phil Mooney was forced to make his seventh change of the week, throwing 21-year-old Charlie Fetoai into inside centre for his Super 14 starting debut.
Barnes had struggled to train during a dramatic week at Ballymore after picking up the injury in the last-start 34-16 loss to the Stormers, but was always expected to play.
Mooney had switched him to inside centre and promoted Quade Cooper to five-eighth to add extra attacking spark.
The coach was forced to admit the 21-year-old was still two days away from being fit and he wouldn’t risk him before the Reds’ three-match tour to South Africa.
Although Fetoai has trained in his place all week, the change is a major spanner in the works for Mooney who specifically chose two ball-players to stretch the huge Bulls out wide.
Unlike Barnes, New Zealand-born Fetoai is a strong, direct ball-runner and his natural game won’t allow the previously-predictable Reds to catch the Bulls by surprise.
“We have to have a crack on Saturday night in the backs and try a few things,” Barnes said before his fitness test.
“If they don’t come off, they don’t come off, but we’re at that stage now where we can’t go into our shells.”
As unlikely as an upset is after three straight losses and in the absence of Barnes, Queensland only need to win by two points to create a Super rugby record.
The Bulls, beaten 20-19 by Queensland in 2006, recorded a 90-point turnaround with last season’s lop-sided victory which provided the springboard for a home semi-final and then Bryan Habana’s last-gasp try in the final win over the Sharks.
Of Mooney’s top XV, only Cooper, lock James Horwill and winger Clinton Schifcofske started against the Bulls under then coach Eddie Jones on that dark day while benched flanker David Croft was skipper.
Half-back Sam Cordingley will take charge of the Reds for the first time in a Super 14 match after John Roe was stripped of the role.
It’s hoped the change will spark the Reds, serial offenders for giving up second-half leads and lapsing after scoring tries, into a better mental state.
Last week’s 34-16 loss to the Stormers came as a result of conceding a try straight after grabbing a 16-13 lead.
“We’re letting little things slip and that’s costing us, like points after we score tries,” Barnes said. “They shouldn’t score a minute after we score one.
“It lets sides back into the game and it kills us.Tweet