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Ex-Wallaby believes Reds have ‘a lot more to lose’ than Drua this weekend

By Finn Morton
Reds players look on after the loss during the round five Super Rugby Pacific match between Melbourne Rebels and Queensland Reds at AAMI Park, on March 25, 2023, in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Kelly Defina/Getty Images)

Former Wallaby Cameron Shepherd believes the Queensland Reds have “a lot more to lose” than the Fijian Drua this weekend when the two sides go head-to-head in a decisive Super Rugby Pacific clash.

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The Reds have overcome a disappointing run of defeats earlier this season to all but guarantee their spot in the playoffs this season, with the Queenslanders sitting comfortably in fifth-spot with a winning record.

Following wins over the Crusaders in Christchurch and the Rebels in Brisbane, the Reds can make it three wins on the trot in Suva on Saturday afternoon but they’ll face a tough test against a Drua outfit who are a different side on home soil.

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If you look at the Drua’s away form, it isn’t exactly a positive. The Fijians are winless from seven fixtures outside of the Pacific Island nation, with all four of their victories coming at Lautoka’s Churchill Park.

The Drua are yet to win in Fiji’s capital Suva this season but now would be the perfect time to break that losing run with the eight-placed side looking to hold off the likes of the Western Force by holding onto their playoff spot.

“Have you guys seen a game in Fiji this season? I’m not surprised at all that they’re different,” Cameron Shepherd said on Stan Sport’s The Call Up.

“That is one of the most hostile and great environments to play in front of, as long as they’re on your team.

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“In all seriousness, you’ve got to take into account they’re travelling a lot. A lot like the Western Force, they’re the remotest of the two teams, there’s a lot of transport, bodies getting heavily beaten. It’s tough.

“I think they’ll turn up this weekend though. I don’t think this is going to be a one-way street at all and the Reds have got a lot more to lose than Fiji do.”

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The Drua have made a staggering six changes to their run-on side to take on the Reds, but that selection feat has been outdone by Queensland coach Les Kiss. Kiss has made nine changes to the Reds’ starting side alone.

Fiji international Peni Ravai headlines an all-new front row that also includes Josh Nasser and Zane Nonggorr, while Irishman Cormac Daly and backrower John Bryant are the other changes to the forward pack.

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Floyd Aubrey and Suliasi Vunivalu will start on a wing each, while try-scoring phenomenon Tim Ryan has received a well-earned rest of sorts with the speedster set to provide impact off the pine in the No. 23 jumper.

As well as the inclusion of former Junior Wallaby Taj Annan in the midfield, the return of Wallaby and Reds co-captain Tate McDermott to the starting side at halfback is clearly the key talking point.

McDermott returned from suspension off the bench against the Melbourne Rebels in Brisbane last time out but is set to lead the team from the get-go in Suva after being handed a start in the No. 9 jersey.

“Massive, massive in terms of his leadership,” former All Black Mils Muliaina added. “He’ll be energetic in terms of coming back but also steering the team around in those hot conditions.

“His partnership with (Lawson) Creighton and also (Hunter) Paisami for me, this is really crucial because they are the ones that are going to steer the guys around the park.

“McDermott, and his role as a (co) captain, too, that will bring a lot of experience but also his voice will hopefully bring a lot of calming influence as well.”

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