Queensland have lost veteran scrum anchor Greg Holmes for their Super Rugby clash with the Western Force in Perth.
Queensland have questioned whether their Super Rugby nemesis, the Western Force, can cope with the pressure of playing their way into a breakthrough finals series.
The Force have revelled in being underdogs against the Reds in the past three seasons but the boot is well and truly on the other foot on Saturday night at Perth’s nib Stadium.
The home side sit seventh on the table and need to win their last two matches, against Queensland and the Brumbies, to book a maiden playoffs berth.
Michael Foley’s team had boasted the third-best defence in the competition before the June break but they struggled to handle expectations and an explosive Blues outfit last weekend, conceding six tries in a 40-14 loss.
Reds coach Richard Graham, the Force’s mentor back when they started a four-game unbeaten streak against Queensland in 2012, has seen how the Perth team’s breakdown efficiency and spoiling tactics have helped lay the platform for three upsets and draw.
“Now having to win the last two games, there’s a fair bit of pressure on them mentally,” Graham said. “It’s a very different situation for them being in that finals (hunt) opposed to stopping other teams making the finals.
“So their thought process will be different and might put a little more pressure on them.”
In contrast, Graham said the only pressure on the 12th-placed Reds, who played with a clear head in their impressive 36-20 win over the Melbourne Rebels, is what they put on themselves.
Queensland head to Perth with a patched-up backline, with Ant Fainga’a (calf) and Dom Shipperley (ankle) added to a long injury list that has already claimed Quade Cooper, Will Genia, Chris Feauai-Sautia and Aidan Toua.
Their pack, to provide a stern set-piece test of the Force forwards, remains mostly intact but the loss of veteran prop Greg Holmes (knee) is a blow.
Holmes has been at the forefront of powerful scrummaging efforts and also set up two tries for halfback Nick Frisby off the back of driving mauls against the Rebels.
Tackle-shedding centre Samu Kerevi gets his run-on debut in the midfield in what should be an intriguing positional battle with fellow Brisbane-raised Fijian Junior Rasolea.
Tipping the scales at 106kg, Kerevi also didn’t mind pointing out the extra weight on Force shoulders.
“A lot of pressure is on them but we can’t be subtle about it; we can’t take a step back,” he said.