James O'Connor runs the ball against and the Sharks last month.
James O'Connor runs the ball against and the Sharks last month.

Reds’ rescue plan brings Townsville into play

TOWNSVILLE'S new stadium is perfectly placed to rescue the Queensland Reds-Sunwolves match on April 5 from the limbo of postponement because of the coronavirus crisis.

The match is set down for Tokyo but with sporting events in Japan already cancelled for later dates in April it is impossible to see it going ahead.

A shift to Townsville's 25,000-seat Queensland Country Bank Stadium would be a major win.

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The buzz of a new venue would pump up the crowd numbers in a region that has been starved of a Super Rugby match since a one-off visit by the Reds in 2006.

Officials from SANZAAR, the Queensland Government, Stadiums Queensland, the Queensland Rugby Union, the Sunwolves and broadcasters Fox Sports will discuss plans around the match this week.

"Early discussions are underway in relation to the scheduling of the April 5 match," a Stadium Queensland spokeswoman said.

"Stadiums Queensland remains open to hosting a Sunwolves' match at one of our venues, including Suncorp Stadium, Queensland Country Bank Stadium and Cbus Super Stadium if required."

Fox Sports will have considerable sway because they have to weigh up broadcast costs.

The Reds-Sunwolves game could be staged in Canberra on April 4 in front of a handful of fans as the first leg of a double-header before the Brumbies play that night.

James O'Connor could provide the necessary accuracy with the kicking duties.
James O'Connor could provide the necessary accuracy with the kicking duties.

O'CONNOR BACK BUT NO GOALKICKING SAVIOUR

James O'Connor seems certain to return to the Queensland Reds backline on Saturday night yet don't expect him to be a surprise goalkicking saviour.

Surprisingly little has been mentioned about the 52-Test Wallaby being an experienced solution to the team's recent goalkicking woes.

He was the Wallabies frontline goalkicker at the 2011 Rugby World Cup after producing that classic sideline conversion to upset the All Blacks in Hong Kong the previous season.

When Quade Cooper missed games, O'Connor was also chief goalkicker during his previous stint at the Reds in 2015.

So why is that reliable boot, with a 74 per cent success rate in Super Rugby, in cotton wool?

A groin niggle prevented O'Connor doing any significant goalkicking practice during the pre-season and early weeks of this campaign.

It has mended to give him more punch kicking from hand which is the upside.

O'Connor was on Monday moving freely on his right ankle which suggests the injury that kept him out of last Friday's match in Christchurch is indeed only a one-game hiccup.

His return at flyhalf to face the Pretoria-based Bulls is a plus but the Reds will be looking elsewhere for their goalkicker.

The sensible move for coach Brad Thorn is to reinstate Bryce Hegarty, a strong 79 per cent career goalkicker, at fullback and shift Jock Campbell to the wing.

Strapping No. 8 Harry Wilson ruled himself out of the role although he's an exuberant amateur at training.

James O'Connor seems to have overcome his leg injury.
James O'Connor seems to have overcome his leg injury.

"I'd love to have a crack at goalkicking but I'm sure Thorney and the boys would just tell me to be quiet," Wilson said.

"It's never ideal to leave points out there (with missed kicks) but we have full trust in our kickers to work hard and come good.

"Losing to the Crusaders (24-20) was obviously frustrating but we do take a lot of positives from how we played and don't plan to make the same mistakes."

The transformation in Wilson's game from influential Brothers club player in 2018 to dominant Reds forward in 2020 is in part due to confidence in handling the physical demands.

"Being in a professional program last year at the Reds got me in the right shape to really back myself in contact,'' Wilson said.

"I didn't play a game last year but I learnt what was required and the transition has been helped by coming into such a settled team."

It's true. Once Wilson learnt his charges had the sting to consistently bend the defence, it only fed his desire for more and his comfort when off-loading,

Consuming eight eggs a day to help bulk up to 112kg has given his frame extra clout as well.

Saturday will be a bumper day of rugby with the Crusaders playing Japan's Sunwolves from 3.35pm in the first leg of a double-header before the Reds-Bulls clash at 6.15pm.

The extra appeal for Kiwi fans could bump the turnout close to 20,000.



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