The Best of the Day preview piles into the ruck with Super Rugby Trans-Tasman tips for the competition’s inaugural match between the Highlanders and Reds.
17:05 (AEST) @ Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
History: Played 24: Highlanders 13 V Reds 11
Last meeting: February 22, 2019: Highlanders 36 d Reds 31 at Forsyth Barr Stadium
Final thoughts: The Best of the Day preview breaks down the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman opener – and arguably the best chance of an Aussie victory in Round 1.
The teams for the first Super Rugby Trans-Tasman battle are 🔒 in!
It all goes down TONIGHT!
— Super Rugby (@SuperRugbyNZ) May 13, 2021
The Reds are the shortest-priced Australian team this weekend. But at $3.64 head-to-head, the Super Rugby AU champs are still regarded as a rank outsider to roll the Highlanders under the roof in Dunedin.
The Reds put together an outstanding campaign under Brad Thorn. They topped the table with seven wins from eight regular-season games, before snatching the final from the Brumbies 19-16 via James O’Connor’s 85th-minute try.
TRY OF THE WEEK | Super Rugby AU Final
— Super Rugby (@SuperRugby) May 11, 2021
Veteran skipper O’Connor was the catalyst for the Reds’ triumph in the No.10. But halfback Tate McDermott, and forwards Taniela Tupou, lock Lukhan Salakaia-Loto and flanker Fraser McReight all enjoyed especially strong campaigns.
The Reds scored 34 tries and conceded 18 in nine games.
— Jim Tucker (@HulaBulaJim) May 11, 2021
The Highlanders won only three of their eight Super Rugby Aotearoa games yet were typically plucky.
Boasting easily the least-heralded squad in the competition – and beset by off-field incidents and injuries that robbed them of key players at various stages – the Highlanders inflicted one of the all-conquering Crusaders’ two losses. They swamped the eventual champs 33-12 in Christchurch in early-April.
The Highlanders will be without All Blacks Shannon Frizell and Josh Ioane. The influence of champion halfback Aaron Smith and No.10 Mitchell Hunt will be crucial to the hosts’ hopes.
McDermott, Jordan Petaia, Harry Wilson and Alex Mafi are the Reds’ big outs from last week’s final, but ex-NRL flyer Suliasi Vunivalu has been named to return off the bench.
This bloke comes with some massive wraps. Can’t wait to see Kalani get a good crack at 9 for @Reds_Rugby on Friday. Will have to try not to pinch himself coming up against his idol Aaron Smith | @RugbyOnNine https://t.co/HgpVX3hMqg
— Michael Atkinson (@kinson88) May 12, 2021
Highlanders with huge rivalry edge against travel-shy Reds
The Highlanders boast a 10-1 home record against the Reds. They took out a high-scoring Dunedin thriller in early-2019, winning 36-31 on the back of a Frizell double and Dillon Hunt’s late match-winner.
Meanwhile, 10 of the teams’ last 11 encounters at all venues have been decided by margins of seven or less.
The Reds have a huge travel hoodoo to overcome, however. The Queenslanders have lost their last 15 games in New Zealand, last coming away with a victory across the Tasman against the Chiefs in 2013.
The Highlanders have to be favoured with the Reds coming off a gruelling Super Rugby AU decider before making the trip to Dunedin. But expect another hard-fought clash between the franchises. The Reds could be a handy Best of the Day option against the 9.5-point line.