Queensland Reds captain James Slipper has called on his bench players to step up and help conquer their maddening inability to close out a Super Rugby match.
The Reds have a strong chance of recording just their second win of the season on Saturday when they host the Cheetahs at Suncorp Stadium.
But they’ll need to put together a full performance – not a half game, like in their two recent matches on tour in South Africa, when the Reds took the lead against the Bulls and Stormers but collapsed under late pressure.
It’s a trend that has been holding back the fast-improving outfit from stamping their progress with victories.
The Reds have even started simulating in-game scenarios at training to try to get used to what it feels like to hold off a furious opponent mounting a comeback.
“It’s been a common thread for us that we play quite well for 60 minutes and, then the last 20 minutes, we really let teams off the hook and that’s something we’ve been trying to address,” Slipper said.
“We tend to lose a bit of cohesion when our bench comes onto the field.
“We’ll be looking for more of an impact from our bench and making sure we finish strong, rather than falling off.”
The Cheetahs have never won in Brisbane and are traditionally a poor travelling side, but Slipper is loathe to take anyone lightly given the shape the Reds are in.
“They’re very powerful up front, they’ve got very quick speedsters out wide who can score tries from anywhere on the field and I reckon they’ve improved this year as well,” he said.
Queensland go in unchanged, but there is plenty riding on Curtis Browning’s shoulders.
Having been part of the Reds’ system since 2013, Browning has always promised plenty but been unable to nail down a place in the team.
His big chance has finally arrived.
The 22-year-old had a career-best game in the Stormers loss, starting in place of the injured Jake Schatz (knee) – not back for at least a few more weeks – while rugby league convert Caleb Timu (knee), brought in this month to increase competition for back-row spots, is out for the season.
Timu suffered a freak training mishap on Wednesday, injuring his anterior cruciate ligament during a non-contact session.
“Curtis has been around for a lot of years now, and he’s still a young bloke. He’s still learning,” Slipper said.
“We’re just looking for a bit of consistency from Curtis.
“He’ll put his hand up, he’s really excited by the prospect of more game time and, the way he played last week, it showed that he can play the game very well.”