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O’Connor to lead Reds in Super Rugby final

Queensland Reds captain Liam Wright has been benched for Saturday’s Super Rugby AU final with coach Brad Thorn reinstating James O’Connor as skipper to face the Brumbies.

An ankle injury on the eve of the season meant Wright played once of the bench before his only start came in their only loss to the Western Force a fortnight ago.

Before that O’Connor had impressed as captain and five-eighth in a seven-game unbeaten run to earn a home final at Suncorp Stadium, where upwards of 40,000 fans are expected.

Angus Scott-Young replaces Wright in the backrow with Ryan Smith at lock and Brandon Paenga-Amosa pipping rival hooker Alex Mafi for a starting berth.

Rookie centre Josh Flook has been retained alongside Hamish Stewart in the Reds’ midfield with Hunter Paisami injured, while winger Suliasi Vunivalu (hamstring) was originally due to return in the last round but was not selected in Thorn’s grand final side.

The club says Vunivalu will be fit for the trans-Tasman tournament.

Wallabies winger Filipo Daugunu still couldn’t earn a starting berth though, stuck behind Jock Campbell and Jordan Petaia, with Bryce Hegarty at fullback.

The Brumbies have their own injury headaches with former Reds captain and veteran Wallabies forward James Slipper and dangerous flanker Pete Samu both out following injuries in their qualifying final defeat of the Western Force.

“I’m gutted for him,” Brumbies prop Scott Sio said of Slipper.

“He would have loved to have obviously played there in front of family and friends in a grand final up there at Suncorp … so we’ve got to do the job for him and the guys who are unfortunately missing out this week and make sure we will bring back some silverware for them.”

Test hooker Folau Fainga’a, who also came from the field early against the Force, has been dropped to the bench with Lachlan Lonergan named to start alongside Sio.

A late inclusion in the Brumbies squad as an injury replacement, Henry Stowers is in line to make his debut for the club on the biggest stage.

“I was amazed Henry wasn’t signed by anyone across the globe, I thought he was outstanding last year for the Force and he’s worked hard to get himself in Super Rugby shape over the last few weeks and he’ll be good for us,” Brumbies coach Dan McKellar said.

REDS: Bryce Hegarty, Jordan Petaia, Josh Flook, Hamish Stewart, Jock Campbell, James O’Connor (c), Tate McDermott, Harry Wilson, Fraser McReight, Angus Scott-Young, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Ryan Smith, Taniela Tupou, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Feao Fotuaika. Reserves: Alex Mafi, Dane Zander, Zane Nonggorr, Seru Uru, Liam Wright, Kalani Thomas, Isaac Henry, Filipo Daugunu.

BRUMBIES: Tom Banks, Andy Muirhead, Len Ikitau, Irae Simone, Tom Wright, Noah Lolesio, Nic White, Rob Valetini, Rory Scott, Nick Frost, Cadeyrn Neville, Darcy Swain, Allan Alaalatoa (c), Lachlan Lonergan, Scott Sio. Reserves: Folau Fainga’a, Harry Lloyd, Tom Ross, Henry Stowers, Luke Reimer, Ryan Lonergan, Reesjan Pasitoa, Mack Hansen

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