Desperate for their first Sydney Super Rugby success in nine years, Queensland aim to attack the NSW Waratahs at their strongest point on Saturday night – their imposing scrum.
Reds coach Ewen McKenzie on Thursday laid down the law to his champions to ensure there was no repeat of the Waratahs’ set-piece domination in their two clashes in 2011.
Although Queensland ended their interstate drought with a sterling backs-to-the-wall 19-15 win at Suncorp Stadium, following a 30-6 round-two loss in Sydney, it only came after they were scrummed into the ground before Waratahs hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau succumbed to injury.
Not prepared to have his gameplan again undermined, McKenzie demanded his forward pack more than match it with a NSW scrum that boasts a quality Test front-row of Benn Robinson, Polota-Nau and Sekope Kepu.
“It’s an obvious strength for them and it’s something that they pride themselves on but I look at that as it’s a great opportunity for us,” McKenzie said.
“If you take the scrum out of the game or you can negate that or put pressure on, then it takes out a big plank that they rely on.”
The Reds, looking for their first Sydney win since 2003, must rely on second-string hooker James Hanson stepping up in just his third run-on start following a worrying ankle syndesmosis injury to Saia Faingaa.
But it was Hanson who bravely helped turn the tide at Suncorp last year after NSW’s monster scrum gained a string of penalties, which skipper Phil Waugh spurned to go for the kill, on the Reds’ line.
Hanson rated the Waratahs front-row as the best in the competition but stressed the Reds have worked hard at improving their scrum under McKenzie and Tony D’Arcy.
“Set pieces have always been a strength of the Waratahs and we’re not hiding from the fact that that’s where it’s going to be won,” said Hanson.
McKenzie has also highlighted the breakdown battle as crucial, picking a 5-2 forward heavy bench that contains Wallabies No.8 Radike Samo and rising flanker Liam Gill.
Both have been chosen to add impact against tiring bodies in the second half while Jake Schatz and Beau Robinson were preferred to start in the back-row alongside Scott Higginbotham.
Higginbotham has shrugged off a back injury to celebrate his 50th match for the Reds and also put to bed any lingering memories of his last battle with the Waratahs.
The Test flanker was blamed by NSW officials for causing a horrific ankle injury to in-form winger Drew Mitchell when he veered into his path on a kick-chase at Suncorp.
“It wasn’t nice for a couple of days there seeing a few people blaming me,” Higginbotham told AAP.
“It bugged me for a few days but Drew came out and said (there was no malice) and gave me a call and said not to worry about it.”