The QR Reds have made seven changes heading into Saturday night’s Investec Super 14 blockbuster against South Africa’s unbeaten Sharks at Suncorp Stadium.
RedsRugby reports that prop Ben Daley gets his first chance in the starting XV with an injury to Greg Holmes, while livewire Blair Connor has impressed enough during the past fortnight to earn a starting position on the wing.
Uncapped wing/fullback Rod Davies, prop Jack Kennedy and Brisbane-born Highlanders recruit Ezra Taylor (lock/backrow) move onto the bench after promising displays in the Reds 2nd XV.
Daley, who will partner Laurie Weeks in the front-row, has earned the role against one of the strongest scrums in world rugby.
The Sharks are blessed with so many quality front-rowers that World Cup winning hooker and captain John Smit has made the switch to prop.
Daley is relishing the challenge, after making his debut off the bench against the Canterbury Crusaders in 2008, his sole appearance in Super 14 rugby to date, where he competed diligently against now All-Black Ben Franks.
“You probably can’t go against a better forward pack,” Daley said of the Sharks.
“Whether it be Jannie du Plessis or John Smit, they’re both tremendous scrummagers, so it’s going to be a tough battle.
“Being my run on debut, you expect to cop a bit of flack, but I guess in any game you have to be aggressive.”
In the crowd on Saturday night will be Daley’s proud father Phil, a former Australian and premiership winning rugby league prop in the 1980-90’s.
Phil, who played for Manly and the Gold Coast Chargers, was famously sacked from the Blues’ State of Origin squad in 1988 when he left camp to be present at Ben’s birth.
“(Phil’s first grade league debut) was around the same age (as me),” said Daley. “He was coming up against the Canterbury Bulldogs and I think they were premiers from the previous year.”
Ezra Taylor’s likely first cap in a Queensland jersey couldn’t come at a better time, with lineout leader Van Humphries withdrawn from the match with a shoulder problem.
Taylor, who graduated from Otago’s Academy to play for the Highlanders, can’t wait to take the field after a foot operation delayed his return to rugby after an injury blighted 2008.
“I’m very happy to be back. We had a plan at the start of the season and I wanted to set my goals pretty high here in Australia,” Taylor said.
“I’ve got my chance now to come off the bench and set things alight.
“I like to play an aggressive style. I like a bit of power play and big tackles now and then if I get the chance.”
The unbeaten Sharks enter the match with plenty of momentum following two successive victories in New Zealand – against the Chiefs and the Blues – but Reds coach Phil Mooney believes his young entourage has the ability to get the job done.
“One thing I think we’ve seen over the past couple of years is when we’ve given young guys an opportunity they’ve really aimed up and there’s no bigger opportunity than against an undefeated Sharks team,” Mooney said.
“That’s the nature of the competition. Whoever you play against, you’re playing a Wallaby, an All Black or a Springbok.”
Mooney concedes victory is crucial at this point of the Reds’ season, with a bye to follow on the next weekend.
“Mathematically we need to win to get back up with the pack,” he said.
“The way the competition has been at the moment, everyone seems to be beating each other, so you’re only stringing a couple of wins away from being back.”
Anthony Faingaa’s versatility has meant he keeps his position on the bench over the desperately unlucky Charlie Fetoai, with Connor’s inclusion in the starting side giving speedster Rod Davies his first opportunity since leaving the Brisbane Broncos last season.
Jack Kennedy moves onto the bench in place of Dayna Edwards, while Adam Byrnes takes Humphries’ role at lock.
Starting XV: 15.Mark McLinden, 14.Blair Connor, 13.Digby Ioane, 12.Berrick Barnes (c), 11.Peter Hynes, 10.Quade Cooper, 9.Ben Lucas, 8.Leroy Houston, 7.Daniel Braid, 6.Scott Higginbotham, 5.Hugh McMeniman, 4.Adam Byrnes, 3.Laurie Weeks, 2.Sean Hardman, 1.Ben Daley.
Reserves: 16.Saia Faingaa, 17.Jack Kennedy, 18.Ezra Taylor, 19.Poutasi Luafutu, 20.Will Genia, 21.Anthony Faingaa, 22.Rod Davies.Tweet