Young gun gives Reds selection headache
SCHEMING halfback Tate McDermott has given the Reds their first selection headache of the new season with his rousing audition to be a Super Rugby starter.
McDermott's high-energy involvements and ability to lift the tempo of the Reds' play were a key feature of the best moments in Friday night's 29-26 trial loss to the Melbourne Rebels in Ballarat.
The more experienced Moses Sorovi, 23, and McDermott, 20, are locked in an intriguing duel to wear the No. 9 jersey against the Highlanders in Dunedin where the Reds kick off the season-proper on February 22.
The duo have just 18 Super Rugby appearances, and just four starts, between them so coach Brad Thorn will be backing a fresh attacking package at halfback whichever player he selects.
McDermott's knack for a quick tap paid off with the Scott Higginbotham try and his scurrying runs around the ruckbase are instinctive when they get his big forwards rolling.
McDermott outplayed Sorovi in Ballarat and deserves an equal cut of minutes when the pair step up against New Zealand's Chiefs at Ballymore on Friday night in a true test of the team's capabilities.
Wallabies Samu Kerevi, Izack Rodda, Taniela Tupou, Sefa Naivalu and uncapped Jordan Petaia missed the Ballarat trip so they will add class to the top-strength trial.
Flyhalf Hamish Stewart said the knock to the shoulder that forced him off against the Rebels would not prevent him playing against the Chiefs.
All will be present at the Reds' Fan Day on Sunday at Ballymore (10am-noon) when heat will replace the jackets and chill wind of Ballarat.
Reds coach Brad Thorn was upbeat about the benefits of Ballarat.
"It was good for a lot of guys to get time and come through unscathed," he said.
"I was really pleased with the defence from the guys, there were some good parts to our scrum but some work to do with our mauling (where the Rebels found impetus for two tries).
"Using the ball, we were stop-start early but we got some continuity as the game went on."
The assured play of fullback Bryce Hegarty, the zip to try-scoring outside back Jack Hardy and the pluck of 19-year-old utility Isaac Lucas were three quick takeaways on new faces.
The Reds kicking was a mixed bag with No. 3 halfback Scott Malolua ripping a 65m left-footed classic to touch while the poor hack and chase of another kicker gave the Rebels ideal space for a kick-return try.
Flyhalf Quade Cooper was delighted to get underway at the Rebels and said there was no friction playing against the Reds, who shut him out last year.
"Not at all. Being able to play against my old team, some old friends, was a great opportunity and it was also a great chance to see them again," Cooper said.
"It felt great to be able to put on the jumper and play some actual football (because) you spend the whole pre-season running around for like 12 weeks."