Thorn defends Queensland Reds captain call

Thu, 06/05/2021, 06:10 am
Murray Wenzel - AAP
by Murray Wenzel - AAP
Reds coach Brad Thorn has defended the decision to change captains ahead of the Final. Photo: Getty Images

Brad Thorn is sticking to what's worked for the Super Rugby AU final, where regular captain and Test backrower Liam Wright will play off the bench.

Queensland Reds coach Brad Thorn hopes his steady hand at the selection table pays off after resisting the urge to recall Suliasi Vunivalu and dropping Test backrower and regular captain Liam Wright to the bench.

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Thorn has also retained 19-year-old rookie centre Josh Flook with wrecking ball Hunter Paisami injured, preferring the elusive Jordan Petaia on the wing and Wallabies winger Filipo Daugunu on the bench.

James O'Connor will retain the captaincy duties and, unlike when Wright returned from injury off the bench in round six, will keep them with the backrower on the field.

The coach's calls have raised eyebrows but, after the Reds earned a home final thanks to seven consecutive wins, he's backing an "ain't broke don't fix it" mindset to face the defending champions Brumbies in front of an expected 40,000 spectators at Suncorp Stadium. 

"He was late to come in and the backrow have been doing it all season," Thorn said of Wright, who only returned to the starting side in their final regular season game because of an ankle injury.

"James had been doing a good job leading the side, it just made sense.

"Liam is a Test player but those guys had done the job ... it's nice to start but the game's changed and the pressure moments are in the back 20, 30 minutes."

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He said hard-nosed teenager Flook would hold his own in the Reds' midfield while Vunivalu's return would come in the trans-Tasman competition to follow the domestic decider.

"Those high octane athletes, you've got to be careful with," he said of the NRL convert.

"He's not quite there yet, could possibly do it but you don't want to set a guy back.

"It's a grand final but I wouldn't say he was available; maybe a game too early and you've got to do right by the player."

James Slipper and Pete Samu will also be missing for the Brumbies, who will be keen to find answers to the Reds' scrum that created ample point-scoring opportunities in their previous two games.

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The crowd on Saturday will be the biggest for a Reds game since more than 50,000 watched a British and Irish Lions tour match in 2013.

And it comes after the game was on its knees last season, reporting a $45.7 million reduction in revenue and a net deficit of $27.1m.

"You've got to embrace it; there's something special about a final and what a great thing for Australian rugby, talking over 40,000 spectators," Thorn said.

"Think back last year it was doom and gloom and 'was the game going to still be running?'.

"It just shows people love their rugby."

It’s a rematch of the 2020 Super Rugby AU decider as the Reds host the Brumbies on Saturday 8 May at Suncorp Stadium, kicking off at 7:45 pm AEST.Click here to purchase tickets to one of the most anticipated Rugby matches of the year.

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