The battered Queensland Reds have been urged to show true character after returning home from a horror three-match tour which has derailed their Super Rugby title defence.
The Reds flew back into Brisbane on Sunday afternoon in a sombre mood after conceding a disastrous 106 points in two consecutive hidings by the Bulls and Western Force.
A tour-opening loss to the Sharks in Durban ended a three-match unbeaten start to their 2012 campaign and the injury-hit defending champions have now plummeted to ninth on the competition table.
A long season, a weak Australian conference and the pending return of a cavalry of players ensures Queensland aren’t out of the play-off race but they’re in danger of falling into a deep hole.
Coming off the back of the 61-8 drubbing by the Bulls in Pretoria, the Reds were outmuscled early by the fired-up Force in Perth, uncharacteristically falling off tackles and giving away penalties as they trailed 21-0 before ultimately losing 45-19.
Last season the Reds conceded just 18 points per game as they swept to the title but their previously tight-knit defence has unravelled as they have thrown caution to the wind on tour.
Coach Ewen McKenzie insisted self-belief remained strong within his side and backed his players to rise to the current challenge.
“It’s disappointing and complicated and all those things but it’s also a challenge and we’ve got a simple chance to show character and we’ll take this opportunity to demonstrate character,” he told AAP.
“The wheel will turn – there’s too much pride for it not to come together.
“We’ll fight our way out of it. There’s a lot of belief in the team and individuals.
“We’re paying a price for inexperience and a lack of combinations at the moment.”
The three-match losing streak, the Reds’ worst since 2009, heightens the importance of Good Friday’s home clash with the Brumbies.
Queensland have won 16 of their past 17 matches at Suncorp Stadium, with their only defeat coming at the hands of the Brumbies last June, and McKenzie expected they’d be invigorated by the return home.
The biggest dilemma for the coach is whether to keep the faith with fourth-choice flyhalf Dallan Murphy, who has been pitchforked into the playmaking hot seat with Quade Cooper, Mike Harris and Ben Lucas all sidelined.
It was a chargedown from a poor Murphy kick early in the second half at nib Stadium which led to a crucial Force try that put them ahead 28-5.
McKenzie has the option of moving Wallabies halfback Will Genia to No.10, promoting youngster Sam Lane or sticking with Murphy.
“That’s really the $64 question,” he said. “We’ve got three scenarios to look at.
“But you’ve got to be careful you don’t change for the sake of it and make things more complicated.”
Of the dozen Reds injured, including nine backs, none are expected to return against the Brumbies but half are in the mix following the round eight bye while Cooper is still at least a month away.