The return of Wallabies centre Hunter Paisami will add some “whack” to a Queensland Reds side dreaming of a huge upset in the Super Rugby Pacific quarter-finals.
Paisami trained on a muddy field on Monday morning in Christchurch where the Reds will be based all week for Friday night’s sudden-death quarter-final against the Crusaders.
It was an encouraging sight after a sore shoulder kept him out of last Friday’s clash against the same side at the same OrgangeTheory Stadium where the Reds were unloved 20-point underdogs with most sports bookies.
The Queenslanders were never a shot at winning after a tame opening and falling 21-3 behind. They did show their fight to close the scores to 28-15 by full-time.
The return of heavy hitter Paisami will add authority to the Reds defence and more thrust in attack but the Crusaders get an even bigger lift with the return of All Blacks maestro Richie Mo’unga at No.10.
“It’s positive news with Hunter. He adds that whack with the way he defends. It can change the momentum of games,” Reds skipper Liam Wright said.
Wright is upbeat about the Reds embracing the challenge of facing the 10-time Super Rugby champions on their home patch and his room-mate for the week, Lawson Creighton.
“The finals are a whole new competition. We definitely got ideas about what worked and what didn’t playing against them last Friday," Wright said.
“They stuck it to us in that first 40 minutes and got too much of a lead (21-3). You don’t want to be chasing the game against them.
“You want to apply pressure as well as absorb it.
“Lawson did good things. He’s got his own strengths as a No.10. He doesn’t play like James (O’Connor) and we are backing those strengths. He cut through and nearly connected with Jordie (Petaia) for a try.”
The Reds kicked 30 times in the match, often poorly and too often straight to a hungry Crusaders player. Wright admitted the Reds’ kicking game had to be sharper.
“There was a bit of aimless kicking but we also know the value if we pick the right times and kick with purpose,” Wright said.
“Lawson picked up a good 50-22 and good chasing pressure won Jock (Campbell) a turnover on another occasion.”
Mo’unga torched the Reds with three tries in a masterclass at Suncorp Stadium last season so his danger is fresh in the minds of the Queenslanders.
“A lot of the Crusaders’ structure revolves around and we know the danger of his footwork,” Wright warned.
“For us, it’s finding dominant contacts in defence, getting the forwards going forward and taking away space from him. We’re not star struck.”
Slowing down the Crusaders supply of ball is all important in that equation with flanker Fraser McReight and Wright needing to wrestle for as much ball as possible.
Wright is excited to be back in full swing after his return off the bench last Friday after time off with an ankle injury.
Wright also said key attacker Jordan Petaia was showing no after-effects from the dangerous tackle of Crusader Pablo Matera last Friday.
Petaia was lifted and upended in a cleanout and landed on his shoulder, neck and head when hitting the turf.
Argentinian Test forward Matera was yellow carded for the offence.
“Jordie will be fine but it wasn’t the best sight. It’s out of our hands what happens there,” Wright said.