O’Connor claims underdog tag for red-hot Reds’ clash with Brumbies: ‘They’re the pinnacle’

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Queensland playmaker James O’Connor claimed the underdogs tag for his team leading into Saturday night’s blockbuster with the Brumbies at Suncorp Stadium.

The Reds are coming off an impressive 32-20 victory over NSW and have a 5-1 record this season but they are still smarting from their only loss, a 16-12 nail-biter in Canberra a fortnight ago.

“They’re the pinnacle of Australian rugby and we’re chasing them,” O’Connor said on Thursday.

“They have been the most consistent team this year in Australia … I feel we’re still building, which is a good thing, because last year we probably peaked a bit too early.”

He has revealed an almost telepathic bond with ball-running prop Taniela Tupou as the side prepares for the next chapter in their Brumbies rivalry.

Top spot on the Super Rugby Pacific ladder will go on the line this weekend – the Reds could jump the unbeaten Brumbies with a bonus-point win. History suggests that will be hard to come by though.

While the home side in Reds v Brumbies games have won a remarkable 14 of the last 15 clashes, the margin has been five points or less in seven of the last eight.

That includes the Reds’ last-gasp three-point win in the 2021 domestic final – the Brumbies’ last trip north – and a controversial four-point win to the Brumbies in Canberra earlier this month.

On that occasion the Brumbies were able to stifle the Reds’ scrum potency, with Tupou bouncing back to dominate at set piece in a gutsy win against the NSW Waratahs last week.

While O’Connor was quick to clarify their scrum would hinge on all eight big men, he said 25-year-old tighthead prop Tupou’s influence on the game had grown to new heights this season.

“He’s just authentic; Nella is Nella,” O’Connor said.

“As he gets older and as he’s growing he’s becoming so much more reliable.

“Now I can just look at him and tell where he’s at and he’ll let me know whether he’s got it as well.

“In set piece, but also with his energy on the field (in general play) … he creates space all over the field and I believe he’s only getting better.”

Second-rower Lukhan Salakaia-Loto will return from an ankle injury for the Reds, while Liam Wright and Filipo Daugunu will start in place of the injured Seru Uru and Jock Campbell.

Yet to play a game this season, off-contract winger Suliasi Vunivalu (hamstring) is eyeing a return in the Reds’ April 15 clash with the Melbourne Rebels. 

Brumbies five-eighth Noah Lolesio (ankle) is out injured and won’t get the chance to push his case for a Wallabies cap later this year against incumbent O’Connor, while Test halfback Nic White will come off the bench a week after the birth of his third child.

“We know each others’ games inside and out … it’s so easy to get up for these ones,” O’Connor said of the rivalry.

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