With the departure of Reds captain Samu Kerevi to Japanese club rugby and Duncan Paia’aua to France, the Reds have a very big hole to fill at inside centre.
A number of current Reds players have the ability to play No.12, such as Isaac Lucas, Matt McGahan and Hamish Stewart. However, none of them bring the sort of powerful ball-running combined with the traditional skills that Kerevi brings to the position, which is a major asset to any rugby team.
But do the Reds have another option in their newly acquired winger and sometimes outside centre, the experienced Wallaby Henry Speight from the Brumbies?
At 31, Speight is no spring chicken, which is a consideration for the Reds coaching staff when thinking about where to play him. He might lose some of the elite speed required to play winger while he is at the Reds, which wouldn’t matter if he was playing No.12.
Also, he has moved to Brisbane for family reasons and while he has always come across as a committed professional, a new challenge for a player who has already done it all on the international stage could be be refreshing for his enthusiasm.
Finally, playing inside centre might add to Speight’s marketability and prolong his career if he wants to eventually take a contract at an overseas club.
Speight has a skill set to bring to the Reds’ No.12 jersey that none of the other candidates to replace Kerevi can offer. While Kerevi is a wrecking ball, Speight is a fire cracker. He is incredibly quick off the mark, has fast feet, incredible leg drive and is strong in contact, making him very difficult for any defender to contain.
He also has an excellent offload and has a capable short kicking game, which he could employ more often at No.12. Of the potential replacements for Kerevi, he has the most potential to fulfill Kerevi’s attacking role by getting them across the advantage line, sucking in defenders and getting the ball away for those outside him to exploit.
Speight is also an outstanding defender, with the second highest tackle completion rate of the Brumbies backs in 2019 at 77 per cent and has breakdown skills that most wingers do not, having forced several ruck and maul turnovers and penalties this season.
In defence he would most likely be better than Kerevi was for the Reds and could make a big contribution towards improving the Reds’ defence in 2020, which could still do with a lot of improvement from the 2019 effort.
Finally, of all the candidates available at the Reds or available to recruit from elsewhere, Speight is the only one who would bring at least 19 Test matches worth of experience to the back line.
Having a player who is used to keeping a calm head in the furnace of international rugby in the pivotal No.12 role – and who can provide that example and guidance to the less experienced Reds backs – could be just the thing the Queenslanders need to turn the tight losses that they have conceded in 2019 into wins and a finals runs in 2020.
Speight has all the qualities necessary to fill the gap at No.12, without having to part with extra money purchasing another player.
It would be great to see Speight, the Reds and their supporters get the most out his stay with the club through imaginative use of his skills and experience.