Brisbane, Australia. Queensland’s selection of flyhalf Ben Lucas to replace the suspended Quade Cooper was the only change Friday to the Reds side for their Super 15 first-round playoff match against the Durban-based Sharks on Saturday.
Cooper received a one-match suspension for his high tackle on Berrick Barnes in the defending champion Reds’ win over the New South Wales Waratahs last Saturday in the final round of the regular season.
Queensland coach Ewen McKenzie said the team had full confidence in Lucas, who filled in for Cooper earlier in the season while the Wallaby flyhalf was recovering from knee surgery following last October’s Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.
“Ben has been training at (No.) 10 all week and the guys around him are very comfortable with the direction he gives the team,” McKenzie said.
“Before last week against the Waratahs, we enjoyed arguably our best win of the season against the then competition-leading Chiefs with Ben at flyhalf and we’re confident he will get the job done tomorrow night.”
The promotion of Lucas saw Nick Frisby regain his place on the bench. McKenzie also retained Australia under-20s captain Liam Gill at openside flanker, keeping the experienced Beau Robinson on the bench.
The Sharks named their team on Wednesday, with lock Willem Alberts returning to the starting lineup along with prop Tendai Mtawarira, who was a late withdrawal from the Sharks’ final-round win over the Cheetahs because of a gastrointestinal complaint.
The other changes were in the backline, where Frans Steyn was replaced by Paul Jordaan at outside center and Tim Whitehead shifted to inside center.
Steyn was not eligible for the playoffs because he signed after the April 1 transfer deadline.
Louis Ludik replaced Pat Lambie after the Springbok had a recurrence of the ankle injury he sustained against England in June.
McKenzie said Alberts was “an interesting selection” in the second row.
“They have got four genuine ball-carrying forwards out there that can make things happen, so it’s an interesting game from a strategy point of view,” McKenzie said.
“They can get serious momentum, a lot of ball continuity. They are good at getting results out of that risk-taking.”
Without Lambie, the key for the Sharks will be their No. 10 — France’s Frederic Michalak.
“He’s got 50-plus test caps for France — that kind of experience you can’t buy,” Sharks captain Keegan Daniel said. “We will be looking at him to steer the ship for us.”
The Cape Town-based Stormers and the Waikato Chiefs await the winners of Saturday’s matches in the semifinals next weekend.
If the Reds win, they’d play the Chiefs on Friday, July 27 at Hamilton. The Stormers would take on the winner of Saturday’s other first-round match at Christchurch, New Zealand between the seven-time champion Canterbury Crusaders and the Pretoria-based Bulls on Saturday, July 28 in Cape Town.
The semifinal winners will play on Aug. 4 at the home stadium of the highest-ranked team in the championship match.
Queensland: Greg Holmes, Saia Faingaa, James Slipper, Rob Simmons, Adam Wallace-Harrison, Jake Schatz, Liam Gill, Scott Higginbotham, Will Genia (captain), Ben Lucas, Digby Ioane, Mike Harris, Anthony Faingaa, Dom Shipperley, Luke Morahan. Reserves: James Hanson, Ben Daley, Radike Samo, Jarrad Butler, Beau Robinson, Nick Frisby, Ben Tapuai.
Sharks: Tendai Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis, Willem Alberts, Anton Bresler, Keegan Daniel (captain), Marcell Coetzee, Ryan Kankowski, Charl McLeod, Frederic Michalak, Lwazi Mvovo, Tim Whitehead, Paul Jordaan, JP Pietersen, Louis Ludik. Replacements: Craig Burden, Wiehahn Herbst, Steven Sykes, Jacques Botes, Cobus Reinach, Meyer Bosman, Odwa Ndungane.