St.George Queensland Reds flanker Liam Gill will make his return from injury in one of four changes made to the Reds starting line-up for Friday’s round seven Super Rugby clash against the Highlanders in Dunedin.
Gill returns from a one-week injury layoff after recovering from a minor MCL complaint and will join lock Rob Simmons and a new wing pairing of Luke Morahan and Dom Shipperley in the starting XV, following the injury withdrawal of both Digby Ioane (knee) and Chris Feauai-Sautia (thigh strain).
Ioane, who hasn’t suffered any structural damage to his knee, will be given a fortnight to recover from bruising to his bone while Feauai-Sautia is also expected to be fit from his thigh strain following next week’s bye.
The Reds will also be without hooker Saia Faingaa, who is continuing to recover from joint inflammation in his neck; scrumhalf Nick Frisby, who rolled his ankle at the end of last night’s training session; and centre Mike Harris, who has a bone chip and ligament damage to his hand.
However, four new faces are set to return on the bench with Ben Daley, scrumhalf Ben Lucas and backs Aidan Toua and Rod Davies coming into the matchday squad.
For Daley and Davies it will be their first opportunity in the Reds jersey for 2013 while Lucas and Toua have been part of the team’s early season success, which has seen them win four of their opening six Super Rugby games.
The other change to the Reds starting line-up sees Simmons reunited with captain James Horwill in the second row, the first time the duo will start a match together since the Reds clash against the Brumbies on May 26 last year.
Despite the changes, Reds Director of Coaching Ewen McKenzie said it was business as usual as they continue preparations for Friday night.
“We’ve always had the mentality of backing the next guy in line and there is no reason not to be positive or excited about our prospects against the Highlanders,” McKenzie said.
“We aren’t in a situation we’ve never dealt with before and there have been plenty of games where we’ve faced challenging circumstances but still come out on top.
“Two games that really stick in my mind are wins against the Chiefs in my first two seasons here, where we battled injuries but still travelled to New Zealand and got a result.
“The attitudinal pieces from the group were of a high standard in the lead-up to those games and we’ll be expecting exactly the same this week.
“We also have guys like Rod Davies and Ben Daley who have been itching for an opportunity, and now that their injuries are behind them, they get one.
“Of the injured guys, we have the benefit of the bye next week so we don’t want to take any risks. We’ll be aggressive with their treatment in the next fortnight and hope to see as many back as possible for the Chiefs.”
McKenzie will this week become the most capped coach in Super Rugby history as he breaks the record he currently owns alongside Robbie Deans with 120 games (66 with the Waratahs from 2003-08, 54 with the Reds from 2010-current).
However, it will be another record McKenzie has his sights set upon on Friday with the Reds chasing their first-ever victory in Dunedin in the professional Rugby era.
While the Reds have a strong record against the Highlanders in Queensland, winning seven of their nine games played, they are yet to topple the Highlanders on New Zealand soil.
The Reds will field an unchanged front-row in props Greg Holmes and James Slipper and hooker James Hanson, while Gill re-joins a backrow featuring Eddie Quirk at blindside flanker and Jake Schatz at No.8.
Vice-captain and scrumhalf Will Genia continues his successful comeback from injury and will join flyhalf Quade Cooper in the playmaking roles, alongside the centre pairing of Ben Tapuai and Anthony Faingaa.
Jono Lance earns his fourth consecutive start at fullback as part of the new-look outside back combination with Morahan and Shipperley on the wings.
St.George Queensland Reds team to play the Highlanders
1. Greg Holmes
2. James Hanson
3. James Slipper
4. Rob Simmons
5. James Horwill (c)
6. Eddie Quirk
7. Liam Gill
8. Jake Schatz
9. Will Genia (vc)
10. Quade Cooper
11. Luke Morahan
12. Ben Tapuai
13. Anthony Faingaa
14. Dom Shipperley
15. Jono Lance
16. Albert Anae
17. Ben Daley
18. Ed O’Donoghue
19. Jarrad Butler
20. Ben Lucas
21. Aidan Toua
22. Rod Davies