On Saturday night the Reds fell into a trap that caused them to draw with the Force.
The Force defended admirably, and had periods of efficient and enjoyable play, but were not able to make the running for the vast majority of the 80 minutes.
It was the same tactical and positional errors by the Reds that consigned the better team to a draw against the Brumbies a fortnight ago as well.
In that game the Reds spurned chanced to kick for goal for trying to score tries. They attempted to score by either mauling the ball from lineouts or using pick and drive tactics right next to the ruck from close.
In that match they had 12 minutes of possession inside the Brumbies 22 metre line. Against the Force that was ‘only’ seven or so minutes. I say ‘only’ because the Force didn’t have anywhere near that much and still managed to score as many points.
It’s hard to work out exactly what the Reds have been trying to achieve; mostly because they took almost every shot at goal last week when they held on to beat the Blues in a very close game.
If rugby were politics this would be decried as hypocrisy. In business it would appear to be uncertain leadership. In rugby it’s the difference between a three-point lead at the top of the ladder and the first wildcard place.
Coming off the back of the Brumbies game that was particularly brutal and hard fought, the Reds were always going to struggle to handle the Blues and only just pulled off a victory there. Many people commented on how tired they looked – in particular Liam Gill.
Beau Robinson was drafted onto the bench, finally back from injury, this week and it would have been hoped that he would add energy to the pack late in the piece.
But overall they weren’t able to fire against the Force. This makes the stubborn decision to stick with the forward-oriented play even more erroneous.
Ignoring kicks for goal was one thing – you’re allowed to set your sights on a try, they are worth more too – but why the insistence on using a tired pack to carry out a tired moves that didn’t work previously and everyone could see coming a mile away?
Making matters worse was the fact Quade Cooper and Digby Ioane had been performing brilliantly all night. The very reason they spent so much time inside the attacking 22 was because Cooper kept finding room and Ioane kept charging down his line like a man possessed.
It wasn’t such a different story against the Brumbies either if you watch the tape. There were some Brumbies mistakes, but it wasn’t a war of attrition through kicking and rucking that saw the Reds camp inside the attacking area so often.
Cooper had a very good game; Ioane, Anthony Fainga’a and Rod Davies were also very willing. They were able to move the ball down the field using a mixture of drive and width.
Why, exactly, do they believe completely changing their approach, after it successfully put them in position to score, is the best way to score?
Giving the ball to Cooper inside the 22 metre area against the Force looked good the few times they used that option. He almost put players through holes and was making defenders question assignments.
Crucially, Cooper was going to the line and playing at top speed, something that took a while to come back after his injury.
McKenzie has been treated as a sage of Australian rugby for a few years now, but I think he’s missed a trick. This team doesn’t need to do much too differently to the one that won the championship a few years ago.
It’s true: the depth in the Reds squad might not be quite as good as that time round, but it’s not far off. They have the pieces to do something special.
The thing is, the Reds could actually win this again. There isn’t the same ‘Team of Destiny’ feel about them, and more would have to break the right way, but they are a competition contender.
The Reds could beat the Brumbies in a one-off finals match. They certainly have the game plan to get a win against the Crusaders, Bulls and Sharks based on previous performance. Even the Chiefs find it hard to contain their patented inside-outside game when it is used well.
I have to assume McKenzie realises this. Could he have lost a bit of perspective after winning in 2011? Is there internal friction between the departing ‘director of coaching’ and the actual Head Coach Richard Graham?
McKenzie, what have you been trying to prove? Don’t lay a trap for yourself and then walk into it.