Sentiment hasn’t swayed calculated Queensland coach Richard Graham, who has dumped hooker Saia Fainga’a to the Reds bench for his 100th Super Rugby match on Saturday night.
Despite being in his sixth season of loyal service for his adopted team, fan favourite Fainga’a will join his identical twin Anthony among the reserves waiting for their chance to mix it with the Stormers at Suncorp Stadium.
James Hanson, an unlucky fall guy during the Reds’ frustrating two-match tour of South Africa, has been reinstated in the No.2 jersey as Graham prepares for a highly-physical, possession game from the South Africans.
“It’s obviously a big game for Saia,” the coach said. “One hundred games of Super Rugby is an outstanding achievement and he’s been very loyal to Queensland.
“At the end of the day, James’ work around the field has been very good and the Stormers hold on to the ball longer than any other team at the moment, and for us to build continuity he has certainly added a dimension to our attack.”
Hanson, sin-binned shortly after entering last week’s controversial 23-20 loss to the Lions in Johannesburg, is one of three changes to the Reds’ 15 but the only one not forced by injury.
It’s a tough call on Fainga’a, who played his first 27 Super games for the Brumbies over three seasons before swapping places with Stephen Moore when the first-choice Wallabies hooker left Ballymore at the end of 2008.
The Reds’ scrum was heavily penalised by referee Stuart Berry last week but appeared to set a strong platform with the fringe Wallaby in the front row alongside James Slipper and Greg Holmes.
An updated prognosis of six weeks on the sidelines for flanker Liam Gill (hamstring) has put a bigger onus on Beau Robinson at No.7.
With continued Brisbane rainfall making expansive rugby unlikely, the abrasive Robinson is rolling up his sleeves and licking his lips at confronting the aggressive Stormers pack.
“It should be a real bashfest,” he said. “I’m pretty excited and I’m sure they will love it – that’s their style too.”
With Aidan Toua (pectoral) out for 10 weeks, Graham has overlooked exciting young fullback Jamie-Jerry Taulagi to move Lachie Turner to No.15 and start Dom Shipperley on the wing.
Queensland: Lachie Turner, Rod Davies, Ben Tapuai, Mike Harris, Dom Shipperley, Quade Cooper, Will Genia, Jake Schatz, Beau Robinson, Eddie Quirk, James Horwill (capt), Rob Simmons, Greg Holmes, James Hanson, James Slipper. Res: Saia Fainga’a, Albert Anae, Jono Owen, Ed O’Donoghue, Curtis Browning, Nick Frisby, Anthony Fainga’a, Ben Lucas.