Queensland Reds coach Brad Thorn has challenged Super Rugby Pacific rivals the Brumbies to take on his scrum in a spicy prelude to their latest battle.
The Brumbies beat the Reds by four points a fortnight ago in Canberra, with statistics showing seven of eight first-half scrums resulted in a penalty.
The unbeaten Brumbies will return to Brisbane on Saturday for the first time since the Reds’ (5-1) dramatic after-the-siren win to claim last year’s Super Rugby AU title.
Those two close results continued a remarkable trend between the sides, with 14 of the last 15 encounters won by the home team but seven of the last eight decided by five points or less.
The scrum tactics have been a source of friction between Thorn and Brumbies coach McKellar, who will leave his post permanently at the end of this season to re-link with Dave Rennie as Wallabies assistant.
The Reds can jump the Brumbies into top spot if they manage a bonus-point win and Thorn has dared the visitors to take them on up front, eager to pump up the tyres of his own scrum guru Cameron Lillicrap in the process.
The former prop and distinguished physiotherapist won a World Cup in 1991 as a player before serving on the staff for the Wallabies’ 1999 triumph.
“The scrum going to ground, we’re not about that here,” Thorn said.
“If you look at the last four years, with Cameron Lillicrap (as scrum coach) … we feel we get dominance through that and we’ll be looking to compete there.
“He’s been around the game a long time, he’s quality and then you’ve got a scrummaging lock (Thorn as coach), we are passionate around the scrum.”
Thorn stopped short of labelling the Brumbies’ tactics as negative.
“I’m not interested in commenting on that stuff; I’m just saying we want to scrum and everyone knows that. We want to play positively,” he said.
Angus Gardner will again officiate the rematch, Thorn confirming he had encouraged the prospect of a scrum contest in their post-game debrief.
“You just want to have a good game of rugby … we’re in the entertainment business,” he said.
Reds lock Lukhan Salakaia-Loto won’t return from an ankle injury despite being named on Wednesday, while winger Filipo Daugunu will return for his 50th cap with Jock Campbell (hand) sidelined.
The Fijian talent was surprised on Friday by the secret visit to Ballymore of his auntie, who was a key player in his arrival in Australia to pursue a rugby career and hadn’t seen him for more than four years.
The clash will also pit Creighton brothers Lawson and Hudson against each other for the first time, after they were named on the Reds and Brumbies’ benches respectively.
Eddie Jones’ hold on the England coaching job is looking shakier by the day with Exeter Chiefs director of rugby Rob Baxter publicly stating his desire to succeed the Australian in the role.
When Jones’ reign ends is unknown. He wants to remain in charge until the World Cup next year but after England’s failed Six Nations campaign, the RFU is conducting an internal review which could mean a change is coming sooner rather than later.
The RFU appears to be hellbent on replacing Jones with a home-grown successor whether the appointment is made this year or next.
Jones has been at England’s helm since the end of 2015, restoring pride after they failed to make the quarter-finals of the World Cup on home turf.
The former Wallabies coach has led them to Six Nations glory three times as well as taking them to the 2019 World Cup final where they lost to South Africa.
His overall record stands at an impressive 56 wins, 15 losses and one draw from 72 Tests at a 78% strike rate.
Baxter said he would be “happy to have a chat about what the role is, how they see it working and what their plans and ambitions are. For obvious reasons there’s an interest in it”.
“But I’ll be honest with you, we don’t really know what the job is. That’s one of the RFU’s challenges – to really decide. Unless you know what it is, it’s hard to say yes or no to anything.”
Bookmakers are already putting up markets on who will replace Jones with Baxter the favourite with Saracens mentor Mark McCall also a contender.
“I’m not one of these people who sit here and says ‘the English coach must be English’. I don’t think it’s a prerequisite that it has to be an Englishman at all,” he told reporters. “But I think it’s good that they’re looking within the English game as if you look historically there has been a preference to ignore Premiership coaches.”
Wallabies captain Michael Hooper makes his long-awaited return for the Tahs off the bench against the Fijian Drua on the Gold Coast on Friday night.
The champion flanker is expected to enter the fray in the second half as the Waratahs look to complete a season double over the Drua and keep their finals hopes alive.
Stand-in skipper Jed Holloway, still deputising for the injured Jake Gordon, says the Waratahs have targeted the Drua and their trip to Perth to play the Western Force as must-win matches.
“There’s a big focus on these next two coming off a tough loss against the Reds on the weekend,” Holloway said at Thursday’s captain’s run.
“But I think the inclusions this week with Hoops coming back and being in the full swing of things and Lalakai (Foketi’s) 50th as well just raises the intensity.”
The Drua have suffered a double setback, forced to relocate camp and coach Mick Byrne catching the coronavirus. Byrne is self-isolating after testing positive for COVID-19 and won’t be with the team when they tackle the Waratahs at Cbus Super Stadium.
Floodwaters caused the Lake Ainsworth Sport and Rec Centre – the squad’s base at Lennox Head – to close and on-site residents including Drua squad and staff to evacuate. The Drua have relocated to the Gold Coast for rounds seven and eight and hope to return to the NSW far north coast for the remainder of the competition.