Niggles start early in Reds-Brumbies clash
Niggle, cloak-and-dagger tactics and more mind games have spiced up the opening-round Super Rugby battle between Queensland and the Brumbies on Saturday night in Canberra.
On another intriguing day of back-and-forth bites between Australia's two best-performed sides of 2012, the Reds deliberately kept a cloud over their starting team by naming a 23-man squad.
Brumbies coach Jake White initially reacted by announcing a 24-man squad of his own before changing his mind and sticking to his original plan of revealing his predictable starting 15 and bench.
David Pocock will make his Brumbies' Super debut at No.7, while Wallabies winger Joe Tomane was squeezed onto the bench by Clyde Rathbone's fairytale return from retirement.
"This is by far the best side we can put on the field this weekend," the coach said. "There's no point in playing ducks and drakes out there."
White, who accused the Reds of a ruse on Tuesday when they ruled out skipper James Horwill (ankle), still stuck by his expectation the Wallabies lock would play despite him being a notable absentee from Queensland's squad.
The former Springboks coach also doubted that omitted fullback Luke Morahan, who scored a sensational solo try in the Reds' last trip to Canberra, would be missing.
McKenzie stressed he wasn't foxing with Horwill but didn't mind the chance to mess with the Brumbies' heads by naming his squad of 13 forwards and 10 backs, which is also missing injured centre Anthony Faingaa.
"I don't think an air of mystery hurts us at this time," he said. "We know what we're doing.
"We know their team quite well. They've been running the same combo for some time and have been quite open about it. We'll do the opposite.
"So I don't see any tactical advantage in letting the Brumbies know what we're going to do."
Required to name a starting team 24 hours before kick-off, McKenzie said he'd unveil his side some time on Friday.
Most intrigue centres on the midfield and who will fill defensive linchpin Faingaa's boots.
Aidan Toua looms as a bolter to start after impressing at No.13 in Queensland's 20-8 loss to the Chiefs in their final trial.
Toua's selection ahead of utility Jono Lance would allow vice-captain Ben Tapuai to stay at inside centre and goalkicker Mike Harris to start at fullback.
Flanker Nigel Ah Wong is set to be Queensland's 23rd man after being named to play in Thursday night's Reds College match against the National Academy at Ballymore.
Horwill's likely second-row replacement Adam Wallace-Harrison said the Reds were well aware of their roles and had no issue with the mystery.
"That's what Ewen does," he said. "He likes to play the mind games."
Brumbies: Jesse Mogg, Henry Speight, Andrew Smith, Christian Lealiifano, Clyde Rathbone, Matt Toomua, Nic White, Ben Mowen (capt), David Pocock, Peter Kimlin, Sam Carter, Scott Fardy, Dan Palmer, Stephen Moore, Ben Alexander. Res: Siliva Siliva, Ruaidhri Murphy, Colby Faingaa, Fotu Auelua, Ian Prior, Joseph Tomane, Robbie Coleman.
Reds squad: Forwards - Nigel Ah Wong, Albert Anae, Jarrad Butler, Saia Faingaa, Liam Gill, James Hanson, Greg Holmes, Ed O'Donoghue, Eddie Quirk, Jake Schatz, Rob Simmons, James Slipper (capt), Adam Wallace-Harrison. Backs - Quade Cooper, Chris F'Sautia, Nick Frisby, Mike Harris, Digby Ioane, Jono Lance, Ben Lucas, Dom Shipperley, Ben Tapuai, Aidan Toua.
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