Quade faces O’Connor in Super showdown
Wallabies “amigos” Quade Cooper and James O’Connor will make injury returns opposite each other in a mouth-watering Super Rugby playmaking battle at AAMI Park on Friday night.
Cooper has overcome hamstring concerns to be a certainty to start at five-eighth for Queensland while O’Connor is also set to wear No.10 and pilot the Melbourne Rebels after training confidently on Monday.
It’s a crunch match for the defending champion Reds who can’t afford to slip up in the three-week run into the competition play-offs, and the positional battle will be an intriguing sub-plot.
Both high-profile backs have their own points to prove after Berrick Barnes impressed at flyhalf in the Wallabies’ 3-0 series whitewash of Six Nations champions Wales and laid a strong case to keep the role in The Rugby Championship.
O’Connor hasn’t played since April 21 when he lacerated his liver in a collision with Barnes while Cooper was given the four-Test June window off to safeguard his return from knee surgery.
Ironically, the third member of their tight-knit “Three Amigos” club, Kurtley Beale, was the only one to play against the Welsh but is battling sore ribs.
Wallabies and Reds halfback Will Genia cheekily revealed fullback Beale copped a heavy knock in the 20-19 third Test win in Sydney on Saturday, and he was rested from Rebels training on Monday.
“It was early on in the game but he toughed it out and continued so we’ll wait and see if he’s going to be out there in Melbourne,” he said.
The Reds’ 2010 caretaker captain, Genia once again takes over as Queensland skipper from injured lock James Horwill (hamstring), who will be replaced in the second-row by Adam Wallace-Harrison.
He denied the defending champions will feel the ill-effects of the Test window in a short five-day preparation when the Rebels only had winger Cooper Vuna involved in Wallabies duty.
While almost half of Queensland’s squad has been on representative duty, only Genia, winger Digby Ioane and back-rower Scott Higginbotham played all four Tests while Liam Gill was ever-present in the Australian under 20s’ disappointing campaign in South Africa.
The Rebels have beaten the Crusaders and Blues at home this season and will look to provide a fitting Australian farewell for retiring captain Stirling Mortlock with another big scalp.
“Hopefully they will have the brass bands out and all that sort of stuff and will get all engrossed about the emotion of that and forget about the football game and we can sneak in there and score 50 points,” said Reds coach Ewen McKenzie.
“That’s what I dream about but I don’t think it will be that way.”© AAP 2013
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