Karmichael Hunt admits the heat is on a rookie Queensland Reds backline to iron out their errors ahead of a daunting clash with a side better at punishing opposition mistakes than anyone in Super Rugby.
The winless Reds host the Highlanders on Saturday night at Suncorp Stadium, and the defending champions will be licking their lips at the prospect of taking on an inexperienced team that seems to have no idea what to do with the ball once they get it.
While vastly improved in many departments since the axing of former coach Richard Graham, the Reds’ attack has failed to fire at any stage this season.
In their last match two weeks ago against the NSW Waratahs, interim Queensland co-coach Matt O’Connor estimates they had “four or five” genuine tryscoring opportunities but repeatedly fluffed their lines, most of the time due to basic skill errors, and rarely looked threatening with ball in hand.
Hunt described the Reds as a “work in progress” and admitted to his own personal frustration at their inability to capitalise on their chances.
“The only way to get past inexperience is to gain experience, and that takes time,” Hunt said on Thursday.
“But we’re not the most patient people, footy players, and obviously coaches aren’t patient – they’re probably less patient, if I can say that.
“The heat’s on us as a group to make sure we’re growing each training session.”
O’Connor admitted the Reds will be on a hiding to nothing if they don’t improve against the Highlanders, who have scored 10 of their 20 tries for the season from turnovers, steals or kick returns.
“They’re very, very clinical if you give them opportunities from unstructured possession,” he said.
“They play the armwrestle probably better than anyone in the competition at the moment, so it’s about making sure that with opportunities, we get scoreboard pressure, we manage field position and we’re accurate.”
The Reds have made two changes to their team, with captain James Slipper set to make his first start of the season.
Slipper made his first appearance since off-season shoulder surgery in the Waratahs loss off the bench, and with flanker Liam Gill expected to play at least an hour, the Reds are only one player – Wallabies lock Kane Douglas (knee) – away from their strongest side.
The other change sees Chris Feauai-Sautia, who missed the NSW clash due to illness, named on the wing to replace Junior Laliofi.
Queensland Reds: Karmichael Hunt, Chris Feauai-Sautia, Samu Kerevi, Anthony Fainga’a, Eto Nabuli, Jake McIntyre, Nick Frisby, Jake Schatz, Liam Gill, Hendrik Tui, Rob Simmons, Cadeyrn Neville, Greg Holmes, Andrew Ready, James Slipper (c). Res: Saia Fainga’a, Sef Fa’agase, Sam Talakai, Ben Matwijow, Curtis Browning, Scott Gale, Sam Greene, Ayumu Goromaru.