Queensland are backing inspirational captain James Slipper to lead Super Rugby’s winless battlers to a boilover in their Australian conference clash with NSW in Brisbane.
Caretaker coach Nick Stiles is delighted to welcome back Slipper and flanker Liam Gill as the Reds seek to break a five-match losing streak against the Waratahs.
Slipper will start on the bench on Sunday in his return from a shoulder reconstruction and knee clean-out in November, but Stiles believes the second-half introduction of the fired-up Wallabies prop could well prove the difference at Suncorp Stadium.
“His ability to really pull the troops together and just provide a calm head will be really important for us,” the stand-in co-coach said on Friday.
“Slips has really grown as a leader over the last couple of years, and it’s a role he’s relishing now.
“He’s been very vocal this week. He’s been talking up the importance of this game, the rivalry with NSW, and demanding the sort of physicality from us that will go towards winning the game.”
Gill, on the comeback from a back injury, has been named to start at openside flanker in what’s likely to be his last head-to-head duel with Waratahs captain Michael Hooper before heading to France at the end of the season.
Grudge matches between NSW and Queensland are usually torrid affairs, but the Reds are bracing themselves for a fast-paced encounter following Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson’s decision to drop bruising forwards Wycliff Palu and Will Skelton.
“Very interesting the changes they’ve made,” Stiles said.
“The Tahs’ success under (former coach) Michael Cheika was built around brute force, and to be removing Will Skelton is a massive change to make.
“The players they’ve brought in, to start Jed Holloway and Jack Dempsey coming in, shows they’re probably going to play a more upbeat, mobile forward pack than what they’ve traditionally played over the last few years.”