St.George Queensland Reds leaders James Horwill and Will Genia will return from injury in a major boost for Saturday night’s blockbuster Super Rugby Qualifier against New Zealand’s Crusaders in Christchurch.
The match will also see talented 22-year-old backrower Jake Schatz celebrate his milestone 50th game for Queensland, becoming the fifth Reds player to reach the mark in 2013.
Schatz has been an integral member of the Reds success since debuting in 2010 against the Crusaders and will be hoping to cap off his milestone game with a victory, which would be Queensland’s first in Christchurch since 1999.
The injection of captain Horwill and vice-captain Genia comes at a crucial moment going into the do-or-die encounter with Rod Davies (knee) and Mike Harris (hamstring) to miss the game through injury.
Centre Anthony Faingaa has continued to respond positively to his rehab for a hamstring strain but due to a lack of training preparation earlier in the week has been chosen to travel with the team as their 23rd man.
Their unavailability and the return of Genia results in four changes made to the starting backline with Jono Lance coming in at inside centre and a new wing pairing of Dom Shipperley and Chris Feauai-Sautia.
“There is always going to be some damage at this time of the year and while it’s disappointing to be without a few guys, we are getting the experience of James and Will back,” Reds Director of Coaching Ewen McKenzie said.
“Their influence can’t be understated and you need world class players and strong leaders if you are going to win these games on the big stage.
“We have had to reshuffle our backline in some positions and the players coming in now have an opportunity to contribute in a positive way.
“They’ve all had plenty of experience this year in the roles we are asking of them and we’ve got every confidence in our entire 22-man squad to get the job done.”
The last time a Queensland team beat the Crusaders in Christchurch was in 1999 although the Ewen McKenzie-led Reds have only played at the venue once, a narrow 15-11 loss last year.
However, the Reds can take confidence knowing they have defeated the Crusaders in three of their past four Super Rugby matches dating back to 2010, including a historic Super Rugby Final triumph in 2011.
“We take pride in the hoodoos we’ve broken over the years and this is just another milestone we can target,” McKenzie said.
“History tells us they have a strong record at home where they seemingly always find a way to prevail, but we pushed them in Christchurch in our last match and many teams have continued to do so and come close since.
“It’s a challenge we look forward to and the Crusaders are always a match we enjoy playing.
“They are a team we are quite familiar with and you always want to be challenging yourself against the best sides.
“Traditionally, this Reds group has also stepped up and performed well in the big games, and that gives us confidence in tackling the opportunity we have in front of us on Saturday night.”
Prop James Slipper, who captained the Reds to a fifth straight victory over the Waratahs at the weekend, will pack down in a front-row which includes loosehead Greg Holmes and hooker Saia Faingaa.
Horwill will partner Rob Simmons in the second-row while Schatz, in his 50th game for Queensland, will combine with Liam Gill and Eddie Quirk in the backrow.
Genia and mercurial playmaker Quade Cooper reunite in the playmaking position where they will be responsible for sparking a backline which boasts Lance and Ben Tapuai in the centres; Feauai-Sautia and Shipperley on the wings; and Lucas at fullback.
On the bench, McKenzie has again gone for a forward-heavy 5-2 split.
Covering the forwards is Albert Anae, Jono Owen , Ed O’Donoghue, Radike Samo and Beau Robinson while Nick Frisby and Luke Morahan will provide an impact for the backs.