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Reds lose co-captain ahead of trip to Samoa

By AAP
(Photo by Kelly Defina/Getty Images)

Under-fire Queensland Reds coach Brad Thorn has received little help from the rugby gods after a pair of injury setbacks forced 11th-hour changes to his side for their historic trip to Samoa.

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The Reds are enduring a three-game Super Rugby Pacific losing skid, last Friday’s heavy loss to the ACT Brumbies leaving off-contract Thorn’s future firmly in the spotlight.

They face the winless Moana Pasifika on Friday, but will do so in the second-year club’s first game in Samoa after the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to call New Zealand home.

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A broken hand for co-captain Liam Wright on Wednesday and hamstring aggravation to centre Isaac Henry has only compounded Thorn’s headache.

Wright’s wicked run of injuries continued when he was lifted in a line-out and copped an innocuous knock, while Henry was confident of overcoming his niggle but was unable to get through Wednesday’s session.

It means out-of-favour James O’Connor will return to the starting side, but in the No.12, while Jake Upfield gets a starting debut in place of Wright.

Co-captain Tate McDermott sympathised with the injury-prone pair and delivered a staunch defence of his coach.

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“I feel for him,” McDermott said of his long-time mentor Thorn.

“He’s been as good as you can be; he’s copped barbs from most angles.

“It’s pretty unfair, if you look at our organisation he’s not solely responsible for it.

“There’s so many other pieces that are responsible for the way the Reds are playing and we have to share that burden.

“It was a grim day on Monday reviewing … we had to face the reality that that’s what we dished out.”

The halfback also said new defence coach Phil Blake had been let down by the players’ efforts.

“He’s given us the perfect framework to defend like a pack of dogs and we’ve gone away from it,” McDermott said.

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“Moana will be up for it … you give them a little line break here or there and they’ll feed off it, their fans in background will be screaming and they’ll be full of confidence.

“When we say we’re going to show up in defence we have to get out there and bring the dog out.”

Regular No.10 O’Connor was dropped to the bench last week but is a handy foil at inside centre, where he has played at Test level.

Suliasi Vunivalu has also been recalled after the Wallabies hopeful was sensationally dropped last week, while Connor Vest and Ryan Smith make a new-look lock combination.

Lawson Creighton has kept hold of the No.10 jersey, with playmaker Tom Lynagh overcoming the concussion that ruled him out of three games and taking his place on the bench.

QUEENSLAND: Sef Fa’agase, Matt Faessler, Zane Nonggorr, Connor Vest, Ryan Smith, Jake Upfield, Fraser McReight, Harry Wilson, Tate McDermott, Lawson Creighton, Jordan Petaia, James O’Connor, Josh Flook, Suliasi Vunivalu, Jock Campbell. Bench: Richie Asiata, Peni Ravai, Phransis Sula-Siaosi, Lopeti Faifua, Connor Anderson, Kalani Thomas, Tom Lynagh, Mac Grealy.

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