Queensland Reds co-captain Liam Wright insists his team won’t be “star struck” by gun Crusaders five-eighth Richie Mo’unga in their Super Rugby Pacific showdown in Christchurch.
Mo’unga missed last week’s 28-15 win over the Reds due to a finger injury, but both he and All Blacks hooker Codie Taylor (ribs) will be back for Friday night’s quarter-final.
The Reds will receive a boost of their own with the return of Wallabies centre Hunter Paisami from a shoulder injury.
The Crusaders set up last week’s win over the Reds by opening up a dominant 21-3 lead by halftime.
The addition of Mo’unga is set to be another challenge for the Reds to overcome, but Wright is confident his team has the capacity to deal with the star All Blacks playmaker.
“He’s going to come in and make a difference. But we’re not going to be star struck by him, and we want to take it to them as well,” Wright said.
“A lot of their structure revolves around him, and he’s a great player. He’s got awesome footwork. He’s very smart around when he kicks.
“But the key part is staying connected in our defensive line. Trying to find dominant contacts there.
“We’ve just got to take away that space, stay connected from that inside man, and that way he won’t have huge gaps to run into and use that speed he’s got.”
Paisami trained on Monday morning and will add invaluable power and pace to the Reds’ backline.
“Hunter adds that whack we always look for,” Wright said.
“A big tackle like that can really change momentum, get a turnover and put them down the other end. He’s someone to be wary of in the defensive line.”
The Reds (8-6) lost five of their final six games of the regular season to finish in seventh spot.
The Crusaders (11-3) secured second after overcoming a shock loss to the NSW Waratahs to finish the campaign with four straight wins.
Wright said his team learned valuable lessons from last week’s loss, and that they will need to eradicate any “aimless” kicking.
“It’s about choosing the right time to get into the kicking battle and making sure we win that,” he said.
“We have to make sure our kicks have a lot of aim to it and a lot of purpose, not just to give them possession and hope they mess it up.”