Queensland Reds coach Richard Graham has responded pragmatically to star flanker Liam Gill’s injury setback.
Gill has been ruled out for four weeks with a back stress fracture, an injury more often found on cricket pitches than rugby fields, but it’s a twist of fate Graham has already accepted.
“It’s never ideal, losing good footballers but it’s the way it’s been dealt and you’ve just got to move on,” he said.
“Once we knew we’d lost Liam we just moved forward and prepared for the side to take the field this weekend.
Graham couldn’t pin down the cause of the injury, which builds up over time with repeated strains on the back.
“It’s something probably more related to a fast bowler than a number seven but it’s just the nature of it,” he said.
“The good thing is it’s relatively short term and hopefully keep him out for only about four weeks.
“He’d done everything - all the contact work, all the games, all the training and then at one point in time he went to do something at the gym and he didn’t like it.”
Curtis Browning takes the openside spot in Gill’s absence, with the former high school star bringing some added physicality to the side, Graham said.
Browning has generally played blindside flanker in his Super Rugby appearances for the Reds but Graham is confident he can fill any back row spot.
“I just like his (physicality) in the close channels,” he said.
“The one thing you know from the Waratahs is there’s a physical threat from their forwards and I think Curtis in front-on defence is outstanding so that’ s a big part of it (selecting him).
Karmichael Hunt won the first-round fullback battle over Ayumu Goromaru and Graham said the cross-code athlete was still developing.
“He’s come a long way,” he said.
“He’s a footballer, if you look at him train, you look at him play, you can see that.
“There are certain elements he’s still learning but the good thing is he’s out on the field everyday doing that.”
Graham said Goromaru had settled in quicker than expected and would see minutes on Saturday night against the Waratahs but wanted to give Hunt the first opportunity.
“The good thing is we’ve got two guys to compete for that 15 position and that’s a better space than we were in this time last season but for me it’s just trying to get the balance right,” he said.
“Karmichael’s trained with us the whole preseason, the boys have a lot of confidence with him playing in behind, he deserves the opportunity to play.”
Graham said he was yet to decide how much game time Goromaru would see and whether his injection into the game would push Hunt into the centres or act as a direct swap.
REDS TEAM TO FACE WARATAHS
1. Ben Daley
2. Saia Fainga’a
3. Greg Holmes
4. Cadeyrn Neville (Queensland debut)
5. Rob Simmons (C)
6. Hendrik Tui
7. Curtis Browning
8. Jake Schatz
9. Nick Frisby
10. Jake McIntyre
11. Eto Nabuli
12. Henry Taefu
13. Samu Kerevi
14. Chris Feauai-Sautia
15. Karmichael Hunt
16. Andrew Ready
17. Sef Fa’agase
18. Sam Talakai
19. Ben Matwijow
20. Michael Gunn
21. Scott Gale
22. Sam Greene
23. Ayumu Goromaru