Reds captain James O’Connor is backing his side’s powerful scrum “weapon” to set the foundation for the club’s second Super Rugby title on Saturday night.
A decade on from their famous 2011 triumph against the Crusaders, Queensland start warm favourites to beat the defending champion Brumbies in the Australian grand final in front of 40,000-plus at Suncorp Stadium.
The Reds have beaten the Brumbies twice this season in comeback classics and won the scrum battle in round eight in Brisbane.
Coach Brad Thorn declared the set-piece as a “weapon” this week and superstar tighthead Taniela Tupou anchors a starting scrum that also features Feao Fotuaika and Brandon Paenga-Amosa.
The Brumbies can call on two veteran Wallabies props in Allan Alaalatoa and Scott Sio while coach Dan McKellar has made an interesting change at hooker where Wallabies squad member Lachan Lonergan starts ahead of try-scoring supremo Folau Fainga’a.
“When you’re ‘versing’ someone like Nella and Feao and BPA you’re going to need a few tricks because they’re powerful men,” O’Connor said.
“We’ll see what they come with – it’ll be a mighty battle but I have a lot of confidence in my men.”
Alaalatoa, the Brumbies captain, will have even more responsibility up front on Saturday after Wallabies forwards James Slipper and Pete Samu were ruled out with injury.
You can bet Brumbies coach Dan McKellar – a former prop and scrum technician – and forwards guru Laurie ‘Lord’ Fisher will have been working overtime this week on tactics to put a wrench in the powerful Reds machine.
“There’s a few ways we’ve spoken about and the Force last week (beaten qualifying final opponents), they scrum similar so it was a good hit out,” said Alaalatoa, who is competing with ‘Tongan Thor’ Tupou for the Wallabies’ No.3 jersey.
“We know it’s a strength of theirs and an area we both pride ourselves on, as well as the maul and lineout, but they’ve set the benchmark in the scrum.”
O’Connor, promoted as skipper in front of the benched Liam Wright, said the Brisbane blockbuster would be one of the highlights of a long and varied career.
From golden boy, to bad boy, to respected leader – there was a steely resolve about O’Connor’s captain’s run manner.
“We respect them, know they’re great outfit but in a final it’s whoever wants it more, history doesn’t matter,” O’Connor said.
“Everyone talks about it being another game but it’s not, it’s a final and my mindset is that its the last game of the year, do or die.
“Forty thousand at Suncorp, it’s unreal … Australian rugby feels good, there’s a buzz around Brisbane and I don’t think I could have seen it developing in this way after a tough time.”