Preview: Highlanders v Reds

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Friday, February 27, 19:35 (local)

H2H: Played 18, Highlanders 9, Reds 9

Last match: Reds 38 Highlanders 30, 30.05.14 in Brisbane

Squad update: Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph has made several changes to his team after losing 20-26 to the Crusaders in round two.

Brendon Edmonds will make his debut for the Southerners, with Ash Dixon and Mark Reddish the other changes in the pack – forcing Josh Hohneck, Liam Coltman and Joe Wheeler to the reserves.

Outwide Lima Sopoaga is unavailable so Marty Banks has been handed the first five-eighths jersey, while Hayden Parker and Kurt Baker have been included in the wider match day squad.

Reds head coach Richard Graham has meanwhile made four changes to his starting side, with the inclusion of James O’Connor, who will make his Queensland debut after withdrawing from last week’s match during the warm ups, the headline.

O’Connor will replace utility Nick Frisby, while Anthony Fainga’a returns from a serious cork suffered in the Reds’ pre-season match against the Crusaders at Ballymore three weeks ago.

Fainga’a joins Samu Kerevi in the centres, shifting Chris Feauai-Sautia to the wing, with 18-year-old Campbell Magnay moving to the reserves, after making his starting debut last weekend.

Form: The Highlanders sat out the first week of action with a bye, and commenced their regular 2015 Investec Super Rugby season with a six point loss to the Crusaders.

Looking like a team that was playing their opener, the red and blacks were that little bit sharper thanks to having an additional 80 minutes under their belt.

The Reds got their maiden victory of the year last week when playing their first home match of 2015, accounting for the Force 18-6 in a two-tries-to-nil victory.

This came a week after two-time champion's the Brumbies ran riot over the interstate rivals, claiming a 47-3 win in the Queenslanders opening match.

Key players: The freshening up of the front row will be vital after the Highlanders scrum was given a tidy workout by the Crusaders in their opening match, with Ross Geldenhuys not looking out of place in a Super Rugby set piece engagement.

Banks will get his first chance running the cutter for the Highlanders, and his partnership with All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith will be vital if the backline is to be let free against the Reds.

Outwide a settled back division will look to add to their two tries scored against the red and blacks, with Malakai Fekitoa and Waisake Naholo dangerous strikes weapons that will look for opportunities off the shoulder of Ben Smith.

The Reds pack is notable for the inclusion of former Highlander Adam Thomson, who was close to his side’s best last week.

Operating alongside the highly rated Liam Gill and Jake Schatz, the battle of the loose will be notable, while the tourist's tight five will see lock and Brisbane City captain Dave McDuling make his starting debut in place of James Horwill, who is out with a hand injury suffered against the Western Force.

O’Connor, who is slightly bulkier when last seen in Super Rugby, wears the number ten jersey and will play alongside forgotten Wallabies scrumhalf Will Genia, who will look for a strong campaign to reignite his international campaign.