With the new Super Rugby season now less than five weeks away, we thought we’d take a closer look at the five franchises the Lions will be facing this summer.
Last week we studied what lies ahead with the Western Force and now we’re turning our attentions to the pedigree, history, star names and coaching staff at the Queensland Reds prior to their clash with the Lions on June 8.
The Reds follow the Force in welcoming the tourists to Australia but they’re expected to give the Lions a tougher test than their Perth-based counterparts.
Super XV winners just two seasons ago, the Reds reached the knockout stages last time out and have the most star-studded squad of all the Aussie outfits. The Reds boast current Wallaby captain James Horwill and halfback aces Will Genia and Quade Cooper in their ranks, as well as the likes of first-choice Wallaby wing Digby Ioane.
They faced the Lions on the first sole tour to Australia in 90 years back in 1989 and did the same when the visitors returned in 2001. Both those games ended in defeat for the hosts, although their 19-15 defeat in ’89 was far closer than the 42-8 hammering they received 12 years later.
The Lions will have a huge task to repeat that 2001 mauling given the strength in depth of the current Reds squad, with 16 of the 30 members included in the Wallaby set up that met in Sydney on Monday.
Wallaby boss Robbie Deans could even allow his star names to feature in the fixture given the fact that it comes two full weeks prior to the first Test and seeing how the likes of Genia, Cooper and Horwill have played very little rugby recently. But even if Deans doesn’t let the Reds pick their frontliners for club duty prior to answering their country’s call, the Brisbane-based franchise won’t be short on experience and quality given the strand of players that lie just below the global stars.
The Reds were among the three Australian provincial outfits that became part of the first Super Rugby tournament in 1996 but have experienced mixed fortunes in the 17 seasons that have followed. A third-placed finish in the inaugural campaign was repeated in 1999, while another semi-final place was achieved in 2001 but their results since the Lions last headed Down Under had, until recently, been far less impressive.
They finished eighth, 10th and 10th in the final three years of the Super 12 and 12th, 14th, 12th and 13th in the first four of the five years of expansion to the Super 14. But that slump was ended with a fifth-place showing in 2010 and a solitary Super Rugby crown followed just 12 months later as Australia celebrated its first champion side since 2004. They made the knockout stages last season and should challenge again this time around.
The Lions were big winners over an understrength Reds in 2001
Last time out
The Reds topped the Australian Conference for the second year running, pipping the Brumbies to first place on the final weekend.
They bowed out of contention with a 30-17 home defeat to the Sharks at the first play-off stage as they relinquished their crown a little earlier than they would have liked but they showed enough across the season as a whole to suggest they could be a real threat to the Lions in early June.
Ewen McKenzie’s men might not have been at their brilliant best as often as in 2011 but they still won 11 of their 16 regular season games despite being without playmaker Cooper for the first 12 rounds of action and losing Horwill two rounds later.
Ones to watch
Where else could we start? Cooper divides opinion throughout Australia and across the world but few can argue that he possesses the X-factor that could topple the Lions if everything goes his way in the summer.
The 24-year-old will hope that the controversy surrounding his ‘toxic’ description of the Wallaby set up and his criticism of Deans’ conservative approach will be put behind him in 2013 after he finally agreed an extension to his ARU contract and was this week recalled to the Wallaby squad.
He still intends to make his professional boxing debut in early February but his mind should be well and truly back on rugby by the time the season kicks off later next month. And if it is, and he recaptures the kind of form that made him so dangerous in Australia’s Tri Nations winning campaign in 2011, then we’re all likely to be watching him on the biggest stage of all, whatever anyone thinks about his defensive frailties or past misdemeanours.
Quade Cooper will be subject to intense scrutiny in 2013
The Wallaby captain needs a big year. And it couldn’t get much bigger than leading his nation to victory over the world’s most-famous touring team.
Horwill didn’t play any international rugby in 2012 after he ruptured his hamstring on Reds duty in May. His absence led to a second row crisis that saw Nathan Sharpe postpone his planned retirement and despite having been out of action for so long, he was never in danger of being overlooked by Deans this term.
Any sort of return to form is likely to see him start against the Lions, although his coach has yet to confirm who his skipper will be for this season.
Like Horwill, Genia spent much of last season on the sidelines. After captaining the Wallabies to a win over South Africa in the absence of Horwill and David Pocock in September, Genia sat out the remainder of the Rugby Championship and all four end-of-year tour fixtures following knee surgery.
He hopes to return to action earlier than his initial comeback date of February 23 and he’s already stated that he sees his lay off as ‘a blessing in disguise’ given the seriousness of what lies ahead in the summer. That’s a worrying prospect for the Lions given that Genia at his best is arguably the world’s leading scrum-half.
Will Genia is a key man for both the Reds and the Wallabies
Anthony and Saia Faingaa
The Faingaa twins, Anthony and Saia will be looking to emulate another famous pair of brothers in June and July: Gavin and Scott Hastings tasted series success when the Lions toured Australia in ‘89 and the Faingaa’s will be hoping to repeat the feat in 2013. Both players have been selected in their country’s pre-season training squad but they are some way down the pecking order when it comes to being first choice in their respective positions.
Centre Anthony has been one of Australia’s most solid performers whenever he has worn the Wallaby shirt but, with the likes of Pat McCabe, James O’Connor, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Rob Horne, Mike Harries and Berrick Barnes all offering viable options in midfield, the 25-year-old is in danger of simply being a wider squad player who stars when others are unavailable. Reds fans will expect another consistent campaign this time around but he may have to show a little more flair and greater variation to his game to be given a shot at shining against the Lions in the Test arena.
Saia is in a similar position, having made his Test debut in June 2010 but having failed to nail a starting spot thanks to the form of Tatafu Polota-Nau and the experience of Stephen Moore. A broken hand ruled him out of the autumn tour of Europe so the upcoming Super Rugby season will be absolutely vital in terms of pushing on to extend his 18 Test-cap career. Earning a spot in the matchday squad to take on Britain and Ireland’s best is certainly within his reach given that Deans doesn’t appear to have decided on who is No1 No2 is just yet, but Faingaa has definitely slipped behind the eight ball and will also have to fight off a domestic challenge at the Reds from Wallaby newcomer James Hanson.
The Reds are led by Ewen McKenzie, the man tipped to take over from Wallaby boss Robbie Deans at the end of 2013. The former Australia tight-head won a World Cup winners medal with the Wallabies in 1991 having made his Test debut the year after the Lions came calling in 1989. He won just over a half century of caps by 1997, starting all bar one of his internationals in the Green and Gold.
McKenzie has also enjoyed plenty of success since moving into the coaching ranks, with a series triumph against the 2001 Lions amongst his earliest achievements. The 47-year-old worked under Rod Macqueen when Britain and Ireland’s elite were beaten in Melbourne and Sydney 12 years ago and he’ll be looking for more of the same with the Reds.
He took charge at the Waratahs after the World Cup Final defeat to England in 2003 and led the NSW franchise to the Super Rugby Final in just his second season in 2005. Semi-final showings followed in 2006 and 2008 before McKenzie headed to Paris to take over at Stade Francais but he lasted just over a year before being sacked in September 2009.
McKenzie’s stock was till high back in Australia, however, and he was immediately given the task of turning around the fortunes of a Reds set up that had failed to live up to expectations in previous seasons. He certainly hasn’t failed in that objective, leading the Reds to a fifth-placed finish in 2010 before delivering an elusive Super Rugby title the following year.
His stellar coaching career to date has also included spells as a coordinator at the Brumbies and top dog with Australia A, while he took sole control of the Wallabies for one Test in the lead up to the 2007 World Cup in France.
Ewen McKenzie had a short spell in France before joining the Reds
McKenzie will work closely with former Australia A full back Richard Graham, who joined the Reds last year after resigning from his role with the Force. Graham was head coach in Perth and will hold the same post in Queensland, although McKenize remains at the top of the coaching ladder.
There was plenty of speculation that Graham’s arrival would see McKenize moved upstairs but the Reds have stated that won’t be the case and that next season will see the two men work closely together. The unspoken suggestion is that Graham is effectively being groomed to take over from McKenzie when the Wallabies finally offer him the chance to replace Deans when the Kiwi’s contract come to an end later this year.
Graham faced the Lions as a player with the Aussie second string in 2001 and has plenty of experience of British and Irish rugby. He previously worked with English Premiership sides Bath and Saracens and also enjoyed a stint as skills coach with the Wallabies between 2009 and 2010.
The 40-year-old, who took over from John Mitchell at the Force two seasons ago, will be looking to register a famous double when the Lions run out at the Suncorp: Graham was part of the Australia A side that beat the last lot of Lions in Gosford, although he was forced out of that match after just 25 minutes when he was concussed by a tackle from Ben Cohen.
There is plenty more northern hemisphere knowledge within the Reds set up, with assistant Jim McKay and strength and conditioning coach Ollie Richardson both having worked with Leicester Tigers and the latter with England Saxons.
McKay was headhunted from the Leicester Academy by McKenzie in 2010 and has been credited with developing the superb attacking game that saw the likes of Cooper, Genia and Ioane shine in the Reds’ title-winning campaign two years ago. He previously spent four years as head coach at the Cornish Pirates and held the same post at North Walsham, while Richardson moved to Oz prior to the start of last season having been part of numerous success stories with the Tigers. He is heavily involved in the coaching of mixed martial arts with the likes of UFC contender Dan Harrdy and will play a big role in getting the Reds’ star names back on track after their lengthy injury lay offs.
Queensland Reds squad for 2013
Forwards: Albert Anae, Ben Daley, Saia Faingaa, Liam Gill, James Hanson, Greg Holmes, James Horwill, Jono Owen*, Eddie Quirk, Radike Samo, Jake Schatz, Rob Simmons, Beau Robinson, James Slipper, David McDuling, Adam Wallace-Harrison
Backs: Quade Cooper, Rod Davies, Chris F'Sautia, Anthony Faingaa, Nick Frisby, Will Genia, Michael Harris, Jono Lance, Digby Ioane, Ben Lucas, Luke Morahan, Dom Shipperley, Aidan Toua, Ben Tapuai
*new signing for 2013
The Reds have a similar squad to the one that won the 2011 title
The Lions in Brisbane:
The Lions have played in Brisbane on 25 occasions, losing just once.
That single defeat came in 1971 when the Lions lost to Queensland in the first of just two games in Australia prior to their tour of New Zealand. It was to be the only blemish on an otherwise unbeaten adventure.
Of the 25 matches, seven have been Tests, with the Lions winning each and every one. The 31-0 hammering of the Wallabies in 1966 remains the Lions’ biggest margin of victory against any of the three southern hemisphere giants.
As well as hosting the ‘Battle of Ballymore’ in 1989, the city was home to one of the most famous Lions victories in history – the stunning 29-13 win over the Wallabies in 2001.
Brisbane will host two fixtures on the Lions’ next visit to Australia, with the clash with the Reds followed by the first Test on June 22 back at the same Suncorp Stadium.
P 25 W 24 L 1
1888: Queensland 6 Lions 13
Queensland Juniors 3 Lions 11
Queensland 0 Lions 7
1899: Queensland 3 Lions 11
Australia 0 Lions 11
1904: Queensland 5 Lions 24
Brisbane 3 Lions 17
Queensland 7 Lions 18
Australia 3 Lions 17
1908: Queensland 3 Anglo-Welsh 20
Queensland 8 Anglo-Welsh 11
Brisbane 3 Anglo-Welsh 26
1930: Queensland 16 Lions 26
Australian XV 14 Lions 29
1950: Australia 6 Lions 19
1959: Queensland 11 Lions 39
Australia 6 Lions 17
1966: Queensland 3 Lions 26
Australia 0 Lions 31
1971: Queensland 15 Lions 11
1989: Queensland 15 Lions 19
Australia 12 Lions 19
Anzac XV 15 Lions 19
2001: Queensland 8 Lions 42
Australia 13 Lions 29