Defending champions Queensland are relishing the prospect of delivering some Super Rugby payback after storming into the finals.
The Reds face the Durban-based Sharks on Saturday night at Suncorp Stadium looking for a seventh straight win and to avenge the loss which sparked an early-season slump.
Queensland went into a three-game freefall which threw their title defence off the rails when they gave up an early 17-0 lead over the Sharks to fall 27-22 in Durban.
They also suffered badly with fill-in playmakers Mike Harris and Ben Lucas sustaining hamstring injuries and winger Digby Ioane suspended which left them exposed for the next month.
The Sharks sealed sixth place with a 34-15 win over the Cheetahs on Sunday morning (NZ time) where big guns Bismarck du Plessis, Frans Steyn and JP Pietersen lifted them out of the mire at 15-6 down at halftime.
Reds coach Ewen McKenzie noted the Sharks had only played South African opponents in the last six rounds and Queensland would attempt to take them out of their comfort zone following a long flight east.
The Sharks, Bulls, Stormers and Crusaders are all teams which beat the Reds in the regular season and McKenzie said they were excited about avenging their losses.
‘‘If you want to win the competition you have to beat everyone and those teams we haven’t beaten this year so to play them again is fantastic,’’ he said.
‘‘We want to turn that around and the Sharks is a good start.’’
Victory over the Sharks, who are attempting to make late-season recruit Steyn eligible, would pit Queensland against the Chiefs in a Hamilton semi-final.
The Crusaders will be favoured to beat the Bulls in Christchurch and set up a semi-final replay against the Stormers in Cape Town.
If Richie McCaw’s men can repeat their 2011 Newlands result then another Reds-Crusaders final at Suncorp Stadium is on the cards for August 4.
The finals finish pleases McKenzie no end considering their early injury crisis which forced them punt on fifth-choice five-eighth Sam Lane for two matches before he was also sidelined.
‘‘People found reasons and said we fluked it last year,’’ he said. ‘‘We’ve done it the tough way this year.
‘‘The guys are quite steadfast about the teams reputation. We hit a couple of lows early in the season and we’ve done a good job of restoring the reputation of the team.
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