How Tate plans to lift Suli out of slump as Reds enter Super Rugby ‘graveyard’


Tate McDermott has pledged to bring Suliasi Vunivalu into the action early in the winger’s Fijian homecoming for the Queensland Reds.

The Fijian-born winger will return to the Reds’ starting line-up this week, with emerging teen Tim Ryan sent to the bench to catch his breath after scoring six tries in the last three games.

The Reds, fifth with three rounds to play, must beat the Drua in Suva on Saturday to remain a chance of unseating either the ACT Brumbies or Chiefs to claim a top-four spot and a home final.

“He’s probably been down on a little bit of confidence,” halfback McDermott said of the Wallabies’ World Cup winger.

Suliasi Vunivalu. (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

“He was playing great footy for us and has had good patches.

“Nothing jumps out (to explain his lack of confidence) but what we can do is get him involved early in the game.

“We just need to find a way to get him into the game, that’s on us (playmakers).

“To be here in front of a friendly crowd for him, to regain that kind of form is going to be big for us.”

The Reds were overwhelmed 41-17 in Fiji last year, the Drua’s biggest-ever Super win.

The hosts are eighth (4-7) and lost just once in Fiji all season but coming off a hefty loss to the Western Force in Perth last week.

“It’s a bit of a graveyard for travelling teams,” McDermott said.

“It’s about finding that way to win.

“We’ve got to be smart, make sure we do the little things well and that the effort’s there.”

The Reds have also rested first-choice hooker Matt Faessler, winger Mac Grealy and outside centre Josh Flook, with Floyd Aubrey to make his starting debut on the opposing wing to Vunivalu.

Meanwhile, as 20-year anniversary commemorations of the ACT Brumbies’ grand-final triumph over the Crusaders step into full swing, coach Stephen Larkham could be forgiven for getting all teary-eyed. It was, afterall, one of the defining moments of his illustrious career.

But the former Wallabies five-eighth now has his eyes firmly on the future, knowing full well his side must just focus on beating their New Zealand rivals in Saturday’s round-13 Super Rugby Pacific clash.

The third-placed Brumbies have not beaten the Crusaders in more than 15 years but will start favourites with their opposition second-bottom after a disappointing season.

Larkham expects a robust contest nonetheless, with an upset win giving the Crusaders a chance to climb into a finals spot.

“When you look at their games throughout the year, they’ve been close in a number of their games and they’re actually playing really good rugby,” he said.

“So it’s a similar challenge definitely to the Waratahs last week, who we thought had played really well throughout the season but hadn’t got the wins as well.”

Larkham was surprised by the bottom-of-the-ladder Waratahs’ mental fortitude in the Brumbies’ hard-fought 29-21 win.

 (Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

“We said at some stage they’re going to give up, the mental side of the game is probably going to be too much for them. But it didn’t happen,” he said. 

“So the boys had to struggle the whole way through the game.”

With three regular-season matches remaining, the Brumbies’ fine form has their faithfuls hopeful of a first title since the 2004 triumph over the Crusaders.


The class of 2024 will be given a pre-match rev-up by the class of 2004 and wear a commemorative heritage jersey to conjure up that champion feeling.

While the off-field celebrations have boosted the mood in camp, Larkham is eager not to get too swept up in the emotion.

“They’re conscious of it,” he said.

“But what we did 20 years ago is certainly not going to help the guys play any better this weekend.”

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