Super Rugby: Reds to host Highlanders at Suncorp Stadium

The Reds have made six changes to their starting side for Friday night’s Suncorp Stadium battle with the Highlanders as Queensland coach Les Kiss bids to avoid a fourth successive Super Rugby Pacific defeat.

However, experienced flyhalf James O’Connor won’t be among them as he continues to recover from a hamstring injury that has sidelined him since late in the pre-season.

Four of the changes are enforced, with suspended pair Tate McDermott and Fraser McReight, and injured duo Seru Uru (thumb) and Josh Flook (thumb) respectively replaced by halfback Kalani Thomas, flanker John Bryant, lock Cormac Daly and winger Mac Grealy, whose inclusion will result in Jordan Petaia shifting from out wide into the centres in a reshuffled Reds backline.

Kiss has also made two other alterations to the team that started in last Friday’s shock 17-14 loss to Moana Pasifika.

Flyhalf Tom Lynagh has been recalled at the expense of Harry McLaughlin-Phillips, who has been left out of the entire 23-man squad, and former All Blacks prop Alex Hodgman replaces Peni Ravai, who drops to the bench.

“The opportunity in this now is to give more exposure to players who were playing off the bench and other players in the program to step up as well,” Kiss said.

Also still keen to “step up” is 64-Test veteran O’Connor. However, he has been forced to remain tolerant with his hamstring tendon injury.

“That’s the art of patience, and one I’m learning,” O’Connor said.

“I’ve never had a problem with a tendon in my career. I’ve had ankle (injuries), I’ve torn a groin, and this one’s proven to be interesting, but in a way as well I’m learning a lot more about the game.

“I’m trying to share (my knowledge in different ways and that’s upskilling my content as well.

“I know when I eventually get out there, I’ll be firing, so I’m excited.”

Following three straight losses, the Reds have dropped to sixth on the ladder, 15 points behind the first-placed Hurricanes.

“There’s one Vo Rogue front-runner in this competition and that’s the Hurricanes,” Kiss said.

“The other teams are within striking distance down to the last three. It’s a tight challenge in that mid-table.”

The “last three” includes the 10th-placed Highlanders, who have lost five of their seven games.

Reds: Alex Hodgman, Matt Faessler, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Cormac Daly, Ryan Smith, Liam Wright, John Bryant, Harry Wilson, Kalani Thomas, Tom Lynagh, Mac Grealy, Hunter Paisami, Jordan Petaia, Suliasi Vunivalu, Jock Campbell. Bench: Josh Nasser, Peni Ravai, Sef Fa’agase, Angus Blyth, Joe Brial, Louis Werchon, Lawson Creighton, Tim Ryan.

Highlanders: Ethan de Groot, Ricky Jackson, Saula Ma’u, Hugo Plummer, Pari Pari Parkinson, Oliver Haig, Sean Withy, Billy Harmon, James Arscott, Cameron Millar, Jona Nareki, Sam Gilbert, Tanielu Tele’a, Timoci Tavatavanawai, Connor Garden-Bachop. Bench: Henry Bell, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Rohan Wingham. Will Stodart. Nikora Broughton, Folau Fakatava, Ajay Faleafaga, Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens.

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