The sudden loss of playmaker James O’Connor for the rest of the regular season has jolted the Queensland Reds’ bold hopes of beating the best of New Zealand rugby.
The first spin-off to O’Connor’s unfortunate knee ligament injury will be missing Saturday’s big clash against the Hurricanes at AAMI Park in the inaugural Super Round.
Medicos have predicted a four-to-six week recovery time frame for the Reds ringmaster which would likely wipe him from consideration until the Super Rugby Pacific play-offs in June.
Wallaby O’Connor came off second best in the 67th minute of the Good Friday clash against the Melbourne Rebels. Rebels centre Andrew Kellaway clattered into his knee after the Reds flyhalf had put up a kick.
The diagnosis of a strained lateral collateral ligament means there is no need for surgery but it still means the third-placed Reds will be without their attack leader.
The cruel luck has been magnified for Saturday with fullback weapon Jordan Petaia having a precautionary rest after feeling a hamstring twinge when slipping on the AAMI Park turf last week. He is expected to miss just one game.
Jock Campbell makes a timely return from injury to play in his preferred slot at fullback.
The far trickier call is on a replacement flyhalf. The Reds have opted for Lawson Creighton, 23, whose minutes this season have all come at wing or fullback. Saturday’s match will be his starting debut.
He plays at No.10 for his club Brothers. He will be better for the confidence gained from 55 minutes as a replacement against the Rebels and his key intercept try.
“We’re gutted to lose James. He’s huge for us on and off the field as a leader and playmaker. I know he will be working hard with our rehab team and will be back playing sooner rather than later this season,” Creighton said.
“It gives me an opportunity to step in at flyhallf which I’m really excited to do.
“I’ve played a lot of No.10 through school and for Brothers, and with guys like Tate (McDermott) and Hamish (Stewart) around me I’m confident I can do the job.
“It was good to get some minutes at fullback last week and it will be another big test this weekend.”
Richie Asiata will make his second consecutive start at hooker alongside Taniela Tupou and Harry Hoopert in the front-row.
Connor Vest earns his second start at blindside flanker and will team up with young Wallabies Fraser McReight and Harry Wilson in the backrow.
Reds head coach Brad Thorn is delighted the chance has arrived to measure the team against the best Kiwi opposition.
“What a great occasion with all 12 teams in Melbourne for Super Round,” Thorn said.
“Trans-Tasman was a tough ride last year against the New Zealanders. The challenge will be in front of us again this year. It starts with the Hurricanes and we’re looking forward to a tough match.
“It’s good to have Jock Campbell back this week. James O’Connor is also out with a knee injury he picked-up against the Rebels. It’s a good opportunity for Lawson Creighton who will make his first Super Rugby start for Queensland.”
Hurricanes v Queensland Reds, AAMI Park, Melbourne, kick-off 7:45pm:
- Harry Hoopert – Brothers
- Richie Asiata – Easts
- Taniela Tupou – Brothers
- Ryan Smith – Brothers
- Angus Blyth – Bond University
- Connor Vest – University of Queensland
- Fraser McReight – Brothers
- Harry Wilson – Brothers
- Tate McDermott – University of Queensland
- Lawson Creighton* – Brothers
- Filipo Daugunu – Wests
- Hamish Stewart – Brothers
- Hunter Paisami – Wests
- Suliasi Vunivalu – Wests
- Jock Campbell – University of Queensland
- Matt Faessler – Brothers
- Dane Zander – Norths
- Feao Fotuaika – Sunnybank
- Lopeti Faifua – Wests
- Angus Scott-Young – University of Queensland
- Kalani Thomas – University of Queensland
- Josh Flook – Brothers
- Mac Grealy – University of Queensland