Reds put faith in Lucas at No.10
Stepping into Quade Cooper’s shoes would faze most players. But Queensland fill-in five-eighth Ben Lucas was more concerned with putting the boot into the perception the Reds were a one-man team ahead of their Super Rugby knockout final against the Sharks on Saturday night.
Lucas is the only change to the Reds’ starting line-up that secured a bonus-point win over the NSW Waratahs last weekend to grab a last-gasp finals spot.
However, Cooper was still the name on everyone’s lips when Lucas fronted the media on Friday.
The Wallabies five-eighth had not been able to stay out of the news this week after copping a one-game ban for a dangerous tackle on Monday night, prompting the Queensland Rugby Union to agonise for days before opting not to appeal.
The Reds won all five games since his return from a knee injury to help keep their title defence alive.
But Lucas believes critics writing off a Queensland side minus Cooper must have short memories.
“I definitely don’t think we are a one-man team. I think we have proven that throughout the year – we have spent most of the year without him,” Lucas said.
Statistics back this.
Queensland had a winning (6-5) record without their playmaker and the last time Lucas played five-eighth he inspired an upset 42-27 win over the Chiefs that sparked the current six-game winning run.
Captain Will Genia seemed to bristle at the “one-man team” notion.
“The job is made a little more different without having Quade. He brings that X factor,” Genia said.
“But he can’t do the things he does without the guys around him doing their job – it’s not a one-man team.”
The Reds endured a tumultuous week after the QRU finally opted not to appeal Cooper’s ban – but not before firing off a “please explain” to SANZAR over a number of issues included perceived judicial inconsistencies.
However, Genia claimed there were no distractions.
“That didn’t involve the playing group at all,” he said.
What has been on the Reds’ minds is their last start against the Sharks.
Again slotting in for Cooper, Lucas troubled the Durban-based side to help Queensland lead 17-0 in the round-four clash before succumbing to a hamstring complaint as the Reds were over run 27-22.
That sparked a 2-5 slide for the Queenslanders.
“We have a burning desire to get one back on them,” Lucas said.
The Sharks have their own worries after losing Springboks fullback Pat Lambie (ankle), lock Piet-Steph Toit (ankle) and Test centre Frans Steyn (ineligible) before the long flight to Australia.
Queensland have won 21 of their past 23 games at Suncorp Stadium and boast a 6-2 record over the Sharks in Brisbane.
However, the Reds won’t need to be reminded that they topped the inaugural Super Rugby table in 1996, only to be thrashed 43-25 by the Sharks in the first semi-final at Ballymore.© AAP 2013
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