The absence of three key All Blacks from an opposition side would usually fill the Queensland Reds with confidence.
Instead it will probably fill them with dread as they brace for a reaction from the wounded Hurricanes in Saturday night’s Super Rugby clash at Westpac Stadium.
New Zealand Test trio Julian Savea, Cory Jane and Victor Vito, plus gun flanker Ardie Savea and prop Chris Eves, will sit out the match as punishment for breaking a curfew in the lead-up to the Hurricanes’ 32-15 loss to the Sharks in Durban last weekend.
They reportedly only broke that curfew by 18 minutes, weren’t drunk and didn’t do anything wrong – aside from failing to live up to the franchise’s incredibly high expectations.
Hurricanes captain Dane Coles said the banned players are “feeling pretty stink, as they should” and hinted a backlash was coming.
Not that the Reds, rank outsiders to notch what would be their third win of the season, are thinking their task will be any easier.
“They look lighter up front but they’re still a good team, one we’re not underestimating at all,” captain James Slipper said on Friday.
“They’re probably going to contend for the title.
“They’re a world-class team and their squad’s got a lot of depth. Whoever they seem to bring in does the job for them.
“Losing five experienced players will somewhat affect them but we’re not even concentrating on who they’re fielding, it’s about us this weekend.”
The Hurricanes are second-bottom in a strong New Zealand conference but are still seventh on the overall ladder.
The Reds themselves are depleted, with star centre Samu Kerevi (broken hand) joined on the sidelines this week by fullback Karmichael Hunt, who has a minor groin strain.
That has opened the door for Japanese import Ayumu Goromaru to prove his high-profile recruitment wasn’t a waste, having contributed little in his less than three hours of gametime so far this year.
Queensland were smashed by the Crusaders in Christchurch last weekend, but Slipper is desperate for an improved performance to help celebrate Rob Simmons’ 100th cap for the Reds.
“He’s one of those players not many people talk about – in the stadium, in the press – but that’s a lock doing his job right, and he’s been doing it for nearly a decade now,” Slipper said.