The matchup is set! The Queensland Reds and ACT Brumbies will square off in the Super Rugby Grand Final on Saturday night from Suncorp Stadium. As usual, Jim Tucker is back with a full preview and betting tips for the big game below.
Queensland Reds v ACT Brumbies
Sat, May 8, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane 7:45pm (AEST)
First of all, the $2.49 being offered about the Brumbies winning this final is huge, over-the-odds value...IF you think the Brumbies are going to win. How can those odds not be value when the men from Canberra have led the Reds for all but five of the 160 minutes played between the sides this season. The fact remains the Reds found ways to win 40-38 and 24-22 in the two highest quality games of Super Rugby AU this season.
The Reds conceded 17-0 and 12-0 starts in those two games and the “fast start” mentality has been a big focus for the Queenslanders for the final. The other area has been more dominant, imposing defence like the hitting qualities that made Brad Thorn as a player. So how did the Reds claw back for those come-from-behind wins?
The Reds are known for their sparkling attack but have actually been outscored eight tries-to-six by the Brumbies this season. The difference has been James O’Connor’s boot...he’s knocked over eight penalty goals to just two by the Brumbies. The Reds get huge value from Taniela Tupou and their dominant scrum and they often turn that into gold with three-point penalty goals. More than that, when the last game at Suncorp Stadium was on the line O’Connor stepped up big time as the game-controller. He is a clear edge over young Brumby Noah Lolesio. No Hunter Paisami is the biggest blow for the Reds because they lose that direct thrust over the gainline that the centre provides. It does make the Reds’ backline look considerably smaller. That’s why bringing the 100kg of gun winger Jordan Petaia into plays in-field will be such a part of the Reds’ game plan. He’ll roam and cause some line-busting havoc.
Brumbies centres Irae Simone and Len Ikitau might look to have the edge over Hamish Stewart and Josh Flook on paper but don’t jump so readily at that. It was the same in the 2011 Super Rugby final when Sonny Bill Williams and Robbie Freuan were matched against underdog centre rivals Ben Tapuai and Anthony Fainga'a. The Reds’ duo prevailed with great smothering defence. Stewart, in particular, is a fine low defender while Thorn comparing Flook to All Blacks great Conrad Smithearly in his career is all you need to know about him.
The Reds have a vastly superior bench with the punch that Wallabies Liam Wright and Filipo Daugunu can add over the closing 30 minutes and don’t forget Seru Uru or Alex Mafi either.
The Reds are 4-0 at Fortress Suncorp this season and they’ll have 40,000-plus fans in their corner this time.
The case for the Brumbies is strong as well although losing prop James Slipper effects the resilience of their scrum big time over 80 minutes while backrower Pete Samu is another hefty injury loss.
The Brumbies are so well-grooved in their play that they’ll be in this all the way. Winger Tom Wright, fullback Tom Banks and Ikitau are serious weapons. There is more of a question mark over the pack where locks Cadeyrn Neville and Darcy Swain have to step up in a big final. New starting hooker Lachie Lonergan likes a rolling maul try too so the $5 about him being his side's first try-scorer is good value.
Curiously, the Reds-Brumbies rivalry has never been stronger over 25 years of Super Rugby. The Brumbies used to win all the time. This will be the side’s seventh clash in 15 months and the ledger is 3-all over this period.
It should be a ripper final but a one-score win to the Reds is written in the tea leaves. It’s a destiny thing too. Reds halfback Tate McDermott was just 13-years-old watching from the nose-bleed seats at Suncorp Stadium when the Reds won the 2011 final and Willy Genia scored the match-winning try. McDermott is $3.75 to score an any-time try in this. You have to like the symmetry of another Reds' scrumhalf scoring.
Trophy-collector Thorn has taken four seasons to climb this mountain and he’s not one to be stalled with the summit in sight.