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Reds centres must grab attention

By Jim Morton 17/06/2011 03:06:40 PM Comments (0)

Stand-in Queensland centres Ben Tapuai and Will Chambers are on notice to gate-crash the Chiefs' farewell party and safeguard the Reds' No.1 position in Super Rugby on Saturday.

Much-loved captain Mils Muliaina, respected playmaker Stephen Donald, star finisher Sitiveni Sivivatu and long-time coach Ian Foster are among the seven local stalwarts to be farewelled in a sentimental last-round clash at Waikato Stadium.

But Reds coach Ewen McKenzie only wants to see his table-topping team take centre stage by sealing Super Rugby's top spot and gain the important inside running to a July 9 home decider.

It's Tapuai and Chambers who have the biggest personal assignments in producing their defensive A-games after Queensland's midfield was exposed in last week's 24-21 escape act against the Western Force.

The new combination - filling in for injured pair Anthony Faingaa and Mike Harris - must rise to the challenge against one of the most unpredictable and dangerous teams in the competition.

McKenzie was pleased with Tapuai and Chambers' ball-running games in Perth but they were caught out with slow line speed and reactions in two early tries by opposing centre Rory Sidey.

"We were disappointed about our defence against the Force, it wasn't up to our usual standard ... it's normally an area of strength," McKenzie told AAP.

"These guys have stepped up and it is draining when you haven't played that much before.

"But we weren't happy with it and we want to do better, and we know we need to do better."

The Chiefs boast a highly-mobile back-row and can be near unstoppable if their halves Brendon Leonard and Donald receive quick ball to feed their dangerous outside men.

Despite the Reds' standing, the Chiefs will start slight favourites at home with injury-hit Queensland missing their entire starting backline besides Wallabies duo Will Genia and Quade Cooper.

McKenzie has promoted versatile back-rower Jake Schatz at the expense of Radike Samo to help nullify the influence of All Blacks flankers Liam Messam and Tanerau Latimer.

Reactivated winger Caleb Ralph, who started his 135 match Super Rugby career with the Chiefs 14 years ago, will made an unlikely Reds debut from the bench with rookie Dom Shipperley selected to replace Luke Morahan (hamstring).

Shipperley will line up opposite tackle-busting Lelia Masaga while Rod Davies has overcome a shoulder problem to mark Sivivatu who scored a hat-trick on the Reds flyer when he made a forgettable 2009 debut.

"The worm turns," McKenzie said. "He (Davies) is definitely a better player than he was then."

A Chiefs loss would see them finish at the bottom of the New Zealand conference but 89-match veteran Sivivatu denied they were motivated by avoiding a wooden-spoon.

"All we've talked about is that it's a big game for us and we're just going to try and enjoy it," the 43-Test All Black said.

"I just want to leave with a happy ending."

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