The Queensland Reds have turned to rookie Jamie-Jerry Taulagi as their backline injury list continues to expand before their clash with the in-form Western Force on Saturday night in Brisbane.
Former Waratah Lachie Turner, who joined the Reds in the off-season, was ruled out on Thursday with an ankle injury. He joins fullback Aidan Toua, centre Chris Sautia and winger Dom Shipperley in the rehab ward, robbing the Reds of significant firepower out wide.
Coach Richard Graham had the option of playing the hot-stepping Taulagi last week but opted for Ben Lucas on the bench. But with Lucas moving to fullback in place of the injured Turner, the Auckland-born 20-year-old gets his opportunity.
Reds fans have been waiting patiently to see Taulagi in top company after he made an immediate impact in a pre-season trial against the Melbourne Rebels. He sliced through their defence with his first touch and from that point, the anticipation began to build.
He scored a try a game in 13 appearances for University in the Brisbane Premier League and has genuine try-scoring pedigree, as well as a tricky short kicking game.
He will face off with former Reds winger Luke Morahan, now part of a resurgent Force side on a three-game winning streak. The Reds returned to the winner's circle last weekend with victory over the touring Stormers but this shapes as a far sterner task.
Graham said Taulagi would give the Force plenty to think about in open play, where his brilliant step and ability to create opportunities could come to the fore.
"Anyone who was here the night against the Rebels will know what he has to offer,'' Graham said ''He’s had a really good 'A' program and he’ll certainly bring something different to the game. He’s got a clear understanding of how he fits into the group and what he can bring to the team.
"The Force kick the ball as much as anyone in Super Rugby. There are going to be times when the game gets loose and he’ll be able to capitalise on that."
The news on Turner remains somewhat clouded. His ankle had given him trouble all week and Graham made the call on Thursday to provide some certainty to the squad. How long he remains sidelined will be determined by scans.
Lucas was as solid as a rock against the Stormers and gives the Reds an extra set of playmaking hands alongside Will Genia, Quade Cooper and the improving Ben Tapuai, who has started to show glimpes of the form that earned him a Wallaby jumper.
The utility has been a God-send for Graham, even if the coach hadn't intended to dip into his squad quite as deeply after just six rounds.
"You’re never quite sure ... Super Rugby throws different things at you,'' he said. ''We lose Turner, Shipperley and Sautia – three guys who have played international rugby – all at the same time. It’s how you handle that and the guys that come into the program."
To add to the intrigue, the Reds feature an entire coaching staff that has previously held the same position at the Force, with Graham in charge, Nick Stiles overseeing the forwards and Steve Meehan running the backs.
Former Australian Under-20s Pettowa Paraka and Jonah Placid stand to make their debuts off the bench.
Qld Reds James Slipper, James Hanson, Greg Holmes, Rob Simmons, James Horwill (c), Eddie Quirk, Beau Robinson, Jake Schatz, Will Genia (vc), Quade Cooper, Jamie-Jerry Taulagi, Mike Harris, Ben Tapuai, Rod Davies, Ben Lucas. Reserves Albert Anae, Pettowa Paraka, Jono Owen, Ed O'Donoghue, Curtis Browning, Nick Frisby, Anthony Fainga'a, Jonah Placid.