Taniela Tupou will be deployed off the bench and fullback Jock Campbell has a point to prove as the Queensland Reds begin their Super Rugby AU title hunt against a plucky NSW Waratahs.
He’s rated among the world’s best forwards by his own coach Brad Thorn, who turned Tupou into an 80-minute player last season.
But in what Thorn described as a management decision, the Wallabies scrum weapon will be used at the death to begin 2021 with Dane Zander, Alex Mafi – in for the injured Brandon Paenga-Amosa – and Feao Fotuaika starting up front.
Exciting back Jordan Petaia will start on the wing along with Filipo Daugunu in a nod to the Reds’ depth after high-profile recruit Suliasi Vunivalu was stood down for the clash following an altercation with a security guard at a Brisbane bar.
The Reds are well-served in the centres by Hamish Stewart and Hunter Paisami and Wallabies great Tim Horan has encouraged them to experiment with Petaia at fullback in an attempt to bolster the country’s depth in a position he says it’s lacking.
But that would mean shifting Campbell, who has flourished since being handed the No.15 jersey last season.
“(Petaia) has played on the wing, at 13, he’s a special guy you could put in any position because you just want him out there,” Thorn said.
“We pulled (Campbell) out of club rugby and he was rookie of the year and last year his name was brought up for Wallabies selection.
“We rate him highly here and he was itching to get back … he’s worked on his physicality presence.
“He saw a lot of his mates get opportunities but you’ve got to earn the right, you’re not just entitled to a jersey because you had a good season.
“Sometimes it’s a longer road and you have to push through to another level and he seems pretty willing to take that on.”
The Waratahs have lost more than 1500 Super Rugby caps of experience over the past two seasons, headlined by Michael Hooper’s one-year sabbatical in Japan.
But emerging forward Angus Bell is among a group who have at least one campaign under their belts and isn’t buying into the underdog narrative.
“We don’t really listen to that sort of stuff; it’s talking, not actions so we’ll see come round one,” he said.
“We’ve got a big, big test in front of us … I’m pretty close with (Reds backrowers) Wilso (Harry Wilson) and Fraser (McReight) and of course it’s real, it’s a massive rivalry and always great to verse them.”
WARATAHS: Jack Maddocks, Alex Newsome, Izaia Perese, Joey Walton, James Ramm, Will Harrison, Jake Gordon, Jack Dempsey, Carlo Tizzano, Will Harris, Jack Whetton, Sam Caird, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Tom Horton, Angus Bell. Reserves: David Porecki, Te Tera Faulkner, Sio Tatola, Jeremy Williams, Hugh Sinclair, Jack Grant, Tane Edmed, Mark Nawaqanitawase.
REDS: Jock Campbell, Jordan Petaia, Hunter Paisami, Hamish Stewart, Filipo Daugunu, James O’Connor, Tate McDermott, Harry Wilson, Fraser McReight, Angus Scott-Young, Seru Eru, Angus Blyth, Feao Fotuaika, Alex Mafi, Dane Zander. Reserves: Richie Asiata, Harry Hoopert, Taniela Tupou, Ryan Smith, Tuania Taii Tualima, Moses Sorovi, Bryce Hegarty, Ilaisa Droasese.