Reds ready to turn on the style

Queensland Reds are next on the British & Irish Lions hit list and their director of coaching Ewen McKenzie has been planning all week for Saturday's big clash at the Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane. [more]

Reds ready to turn on the style

Queensland Reds are next on the British & Irish Lions hit list and their director of coaching Ewen McKenzie has been planning all week for Saturday’s big clash at the Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane.

McKenzie steered the Reds to the Super Rugby title in 2011 and was forwards coach to the Qantas Wallabies when they beat the Lions in 2001. Now he has set his sights on a third big scalp – beating the Lions as a head coach.

Queensland were the last provincial team in Australia to beat the Lions way back in 1971, but they will have to go into their latest shot at stardom without seven Wallabies. That will test them, but they rarely lose at the Suncorp.

Only the Western Force have beaten the Reds at home this season and they only lost one home Super Rugby in 2012 and 2011. And with a full house of 50,000 expected to turn up at the weekend the third game of the Lions’ 125th anniversary tour looks like being a cracker.

“We have enjoyed the game of trying to pick the team that will play against us on Saturday and we are working hard on getting a competitive team together ourselves. The early games are all about getting the team culture going and it looks like he is relying on combinations – in Hong Kong it was largely a Welsh side and it is mainly Irish in Perth,” said McKenzie.

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“I think we’ll see a large English contingent against us with potentially the Welsh back row that played against England in Cardiff in the 6 Nations. They are a very dynamic trio and Warren Gatland obviously liked what he saw in Cardiff.

“Then I think we’ll see the English half-backs and Welsh centre again. We have lost seven Qantas Wallabies, and that’s not helpful, but we still have seven or eight players left who have played for the Wallabies.

“We will have to fill in a few holes, but playing at the Suncorp Stadium always brings out the best in us and we are going to have a full house. There are usually between 30-35 thousand home fans cheering for us, but this time the rest will be cheering for the Lions.

“The Super Rugby fixture schedule worked out well for us and the Lions match hasn’t affected us. We would have loved to have had a full squad to choose from, but that won’t take away from the occasion and atmosphere it is just one of the challenges.”

McKenzie is a lover of the Lions concept and is expecting a huge reaction from his players when they take the field for a once I a career opportunity on Saturday. He played against the 1989 Lions for Australia B and so knows all about the experience.

“If a Lions tour was just about three Test matches then the whole dynamics of the tour would change. It is always interesting to see how the players from the four countries come together and I know that the concept of a combined team is something we’ve talked about from an ANZAC or Southern Hemisphere perspective in the past,” he said.
“We’ve had a few attempts in the past and I think people underestimate how the players feel about it.

“I was forwards coach for the Wallabies in 2001 and that was a magnificent series. We didn’t have physical superiority, but we had some class, some skill and some superb moments.

“They won the first Test and we were going nowhere for a period in the second Test. Then Joe Roff suddenly opened things up for us and we drew level.

“I guess it was the Lions on top for a Test and a half and then us for the other Test and a half. What we did do was put a lot of time and effort into studying and analysing them and their game. I am a big believer in analysis and what can be achieved by it.

“This is my third experience of going up against the Lions because I played for Australia B against them in 1989. But this will be my first time as a head coach.”

So, having seen the Lions play twice, what does he make of them and how does he feel the Australian teams can catch them out? Homework is one key factor, the breakdown is the other.

“We’ve been through the video of the Barbarians match and it’s obvious the Baa-Baas didn’t have their defence organised. Australian teams are organised in defence and like to create pressure through that to create mistakes and turnovers,” said McKenzie.

“We are a team that likes to play with width and style and the Reds team will play unshackled. We’re not going to go out there and die wondering.

“We haven’t got a big pack, but you can often find other ways to put pressure on teams. We want the game to be entertaining and we want rugby to be the winner on an occasion like this.”

The game will give McKenzie’s international outside half Quade Cooper one last chance to bid for one of the final few slots in the Qantas Wallabies squad before the door is well and truly closed for the series against the Lions. Last weekend Cooper gave away two tries to the Melbourne Rebels through charged down kicks, but then won the game in the end through his brilliance.

McKenzie is the staunchest of defenders of the Reds pivot, but doesn’t believe Saturday’s game amounts to a final trial for Cooper.

“I don’t think anyone gets picked on one performance, so Saturday’s match won’t be a final trial for Quade Cooper. He will be very focused and be very team orientated – and he will love the chance to got out there to thrill everyone. He takes very seriously his responsibilities within the team,” he added.

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