Queensland Reds aim young gun at Cheetahs

JIM MORTON
Last updated 17:04 06/03/2014

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The Queensland Reds have set explosive Wallabies rookie Chris Feauai-Sautia the big assignment to bust the Cheetahs' defence wide open at Suncorp Stadium on Friday night.

Out of five alterations to the battle-scarred outfit thumped 32-5 by NSW last week, Feauai-Sautia is the Reds' only tactical change as coach Richard Graham aims to harness his tackle-shedding power in the midfield.

The freewheeling Cheetahs love to attack by throwing the ball from sideline to sideline, but the Reds will instead aim their energies up the middle in what is a crucial third-round Super Rugby clash.

Queensland head to South Africa for a tough two-match tour immediately after and their first home game takes on major importance following the four-try rout by the Waratahs.

Feauai-Sautia, with two Test tries from his two Wallabies caps, had been forced to start the season on the Reds' bench as Graham preferred Ben Tapuai's communication, experience and big left boot at outside centre.

But the 20-year-old will start as a prime target for Quade Cooper's cut-out passes.

"He's explosive, and he's strong on the gain line," Graham told AAP.

"We thought that with these guys this week looking to play wide and side-to-side that we need to find a way to go through them."

Feauai-Sautia was a sponge around five-eighth Cooper and Israel Folau during Australia's successful spring tour of Europe, where he impressed in his only start in the 25-19 win over Scotland.

"He's definitely developed more confidence," Graham said. "He's been away with some influential players and some guys have been really good with nurturing him."

While NSW cut the Reds to ribbons with their off-loading game, Graham has dismissed any concerns about his side's defence - pointing to statistics they have missed the least amount of tackles in the competition.

But they will need to muscle up more with dominant first-up tackles, particularly on bullocking front-rowers Adriaan Strauss and Coenie Oosthuizen, and also work hard to cover on the inside.

The Cheetahs, last year's big improvers to finish sixth, have yet to click into gear this season and come off a 35-14 loss to the Melbourne Rebels, but Queensland are wary.

"They're definitely a side who innovates and are happy to try things anywhere on the field so we have to mentally engaged at all times," Graham said.

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