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Wallaby great labels Reds’ clash with Highlanders as ‘a must-win’

By Finn Morton
Queensland Reds react after their defeat during the round six Super Rugby Pacific match between Queensland Reds and ACT Brumbies at Suncorp Stadium, on March 30, 2024, in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

Rugby World Cup-winning Wallaby Tim Horan has previewed a “tough” run of matches for the Queensland Reds starting with a “must-win” clash against the Highlanders on Friday.

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The Queenslanders emerged as the form Australian side in Super Rugby Pacific after a series of statement victories over the Waratahs, Chiefs and Rebels during the opening four rounds.

While they were beaten in a golden point thriller against the still-undefeated Hurricanes in Melbourne, the Reds’ impressive 3-1 start had the rugby world reminiscing about 2011.

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But those first four matches seem like a long time ago now. The Reds have since been beaten by the Western Force, Brumbies and a 17-14 defeat to Moana Pasifika marred by poor discipline.

Head-to-Head

Last 5 Meetings

Wins
1
Draws
0
Wins
4
Average Points scored
26
28
First try wins
20%
Home team wins
80%

The Reds sit sixth on the ladder and appear incredibly unlikely to slip out of a playoff spot this weekend, but they’ll be desperate to get their season back on track at Suncorp Stadium.

“We all spoke about the start that they had. It really gave a lot of rugby fans hope that the way the Reds were playing and also they were winning some matches,” Horan said on Stan Sports’ Rugby Heaven.

“You’ve got this block now against three New Zealand teams.

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“You’ve got the Highlanders on Friday night which is a must-win for the Reds, then you host the Blues in ANZAC Round which is going to be special for Australian and New Zealand teams next weekend, and then the Crusaders.”

Co-captain Tate McDermott and Wallabies flanker Fraser McReight were both sent off during the loss to Moana Pasifika and have subsequently been handed lengthy suspensions.

Both men will miss upcoming matches against New Zealand opponents the Highlanders, the Blues and the Crusaders – but McReight can potentially return one week earlier.

The Reds will be desperate to snap their losing streak, and the same can be said for the Highlanders who haven’t won since their March 8 clash with the Waratahs in Sydney.

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Playing at Melbourne’s AAMI Park, the Highlanders were no match for Carter Gordon’s Rebels who handed the Dunedin side their fourth loss on the bounce.

But still, this still shapes up as a danger game for both the Red and Highlanders.

“That block of three against Kiwi opposition will be tough,” Horan continued.

“Their forward pack’s got to stand up and you’ve got to have some depth coming into the back end of this season.”

The Queensland Reds host the Highlanders at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium at 7:35 pm AEST on Friday night. Queensland are inside the top eight while the 10th-placed Landers will be eager to improve on their 2-5 record to force their way back in.

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Jon 1 days ago
Why Sam Cane's path to retirement is perfect for him and the All Blacks

> It would be best described as an elegant solution to what was potentially going to be a significant problem for new All Blacks coach Scott Robertson. It is a problem the mad population of New Zealand will have to cope with more and more as All Blacks are able to continue their careers in NZ post RWCs. It will not be a problem for coaches, who are always going to start a campaign with the captain for the next WC in mind. > Cane, despite his warrior spirit, his undoubted commitment to every team he played for and unforgettable heroics against Ireland in last year’s World Cup quarter-final, was never unanimously admired or respected within New Zealand while he was in the role. Neither was McCaw, he was considered far too passive a captain and then out of form until his last world cup where everyone opinions changed, just like they would have if Cane had won the WC. > It was never easy to see where Cane, or even if, he would fit into Robertson’s squad given the new coach will want to be building a new-look team with 2027 in mind. > Cane will win his selections on merit and come the end of the year, he’ll sign off, he hopes, with 100 caps and maybe even, at last, universal public appreciation for what was a special career. No, he won’t. Those returning from Japan have already earned the right to retain their jersey, it’s in their contract. Cane would have been playing against England if he was ready, and found it very hard to keep his place. Perform, and they keep it however. Very easy to see where Cane could have fit, very hard to see how he could have accomplished it choosing this year as his sabbatical instead of 2025, and that’s how it played out (though I assume we now know what when NZR said they were allowing him to move his sabbatical forward and return to NZ next year, they had actually agreed to simply select him for the All Blacks from overseas, without any chance he was going to play in NZ again). With a mammoth season of 15 All Black games they might as well get some value out of his years contract, though even with him being of equal character to Richie, I don’t think they should guarantee him his 100 caps. That’s not what the All Blacks should be about. He absolutely has to play winning football.

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