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Reds about to make a statement, one way or another

Paul Cully Columnist

By Paul Cully, Paul Cully is a Roar Expert

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    Queensland Reds player Luke Morahan looks for support. AAP Image/Dave Hunt

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    If I was the wagering type, I would have deposited a small investment on the Reds being quite happy to board a flight to South Africa with looming assignments against the Sharks and Bulls.

    It’s a little break from the unforgiving expectation levels at Suncorp, where some in the stands complained that Saturday’s win against the Rebels was “like 2008”.

    It’s a chance move on from an opening series of domestic encounters which are all too often high on familiarity and low on fluency. But most importantly, it’s a way to draw a line under the corrosive handling errors that were excusable in round one but an emerging pattern by the third round.

    Three games are enough to make our first tentative assessments of the year and the Reds have a points tally going upwards and a form line that is edging downwards.

    The most assertive thing that came out of Brisbane on Saturday was coach Ewen McKenzie’s surprisingly brusque comments during the game about the lack of yellow cards.

    The remarks were on the wrong side of churlishness as far as fairness to the Rebels was concerned.

    The Melbourne side defended with vigour and enthusiasm rather than cynicism. This was a team that was advancing in its defensive line, not on its last legs and resorting to the desperate illegalities of a weary unit.

    Hugh Pyle’s driving tackle into Digby Ioane metres from the try line summed up their energy levels with just 20 minutes left on the clock.

    Besides, referee Angus Gardner, the object of McKenzie’s ire, had nothing to do with Ben Tapuai losing the ball in contact in the 46th minute or Scott Higginbotham throwing a loose pass for another turnover of possession three minutes later. These are but two examples that might provide an alternative source of McKenzie’s displeasure.

    The Reds simply did not stress the Rebels’ defence enough to bring the sin bin into play.

    Mike Harris, in particular, failed to enhance his reputation. Sharp-eyed rugby followers would have noticed that on the morning of the game that my Fairfax colleague Greg Growden put Harris’ name forward as one of those interesting the Wallabies.

    The selection sands shift during the season but it is worth noting that one month before the start of the Test season last year Greg wrote that Pat McCabe was being looked at closely for a centre berth.

    The spotlight did not show Harris in his best light.

    Apart from one decent half break inside Danny Cipriani, he produced his most hesitant performance of the season, finishing the game at inside-centre, where he looked more comfortable. Those conducting the contract extension talks on behalf of Quade Cooper have had an excellent start to the season.

    In the interests of balance it must be noted that Harris has plenty of company. Between them the five Australian franchises mustered just five tries last weekend, two of them to forwards. Some early-season back-line selections have looked unbalanced and played that way.

    One of the downsides to Cooper’s absence has been the lack of width in the Reds’ attack.

    Any fullback who hits the line at pace – whether it’s Kurtley Beale for Australia or Luke Morahan for Queensland – is a major beneficiary of Cooper’s outstanding, long flat passing.

    Denied them, Morahan has been a virtual spectator and might end up as a selection casualty.

    It would be a brave decision to stick Rod Davies at No.15 under Pat Lambie’s accurate bombs but you can comprehend the desire for extra zip. Despite the patchy work so far, having a game breaker such as Davies ready to come in reminds us that the Reds’ have the ability to move up through the gears against superior opposition.

    You would also expect the big dogs of the back row – Radike Samo and Beau Robinson – to return after youth was given its head in the opening skirmishes.

    There is also an element of the phoney war in the Australian derbies.

    Willing they may be but nothing in weeks one or two prepared the Waratahs for the tempo and intensity they encountered against the Highlanders on Friday.

    The Force’s Matt Hodgson was nearly knocked unconscious in a perfectly legal hit by the Hurricanes’ replacement hooker Motu Matu’u in Perth.

    The Brumbies’ season will begin in earnest with a tough trip to face the Chiefs on Friday. Willem Alberts and the du Plessis brothers await the Reds in Durban.

    Physicality goes up another notch against those with different accents.

    Last year, the Reds made alerted the entire competition to their quality with a brilliantly executed victory in Cape Town. Champion sides are judged by higher standards and Australian rugby could do with them putting down another marker.

    Paul Cully
    Paul Cully

    Paul Cully is a freelance journalist who was born in New Zealand, raised in Northern Ireland, but spent most of his working life in Australia. He is a former Sun-Herald sports editor, rugby tragic, and current Roar and RugbyHeaven contributor.

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    The Crowd Says (38)

    • March 14th 2012 @ 6:01am
      kingplaymaker said | March 14th 2012 @ 6:01am | ! Report

      All too right.

      The Reds probably depend on Cooper far more than they realise: he was always there during their successes and is the most creative 10 in the world. A 10’s creativity can transform a team and it is still the most influential position.

      I wonder if having boldly brought on youth when he needed to in the form of Cooper and Genia, that Mckenzie isn’t playing it rather safe having now won a title.

      We heard early in the season that the two 17 year-olds Chris Feauai-Sautia and UJ Seuteni were the next big things, but Mckenzie seems far more delicate with them than he was in past ages.

      Perhaps he is becoming woolly. The Reds need to bring through young players quickly as the likes of Samo can’t be expected to last forever and even then there are some gaps in quality.

      In any case, once Cooper is back things may suddenly look rosy.

      • March 14th 2012 @ 8:50am
        liquor box said | March 14th 2012 @ 8:50am | ! Report

        have to agree aboiut cooper, he is showing his worth by his absence.

        Imagine if we can be undefeated still when he returns, it sets up for another great season

        • March 14th 2012 @ 10:45am
          Danny said | March 14th 2012 @ 10:45am | ! Report

          Seriously, two scratchy wins against Force and Rebels and a flukey last gasp effort against the Tahs and the Reds are world beaters again.

          Stand by for disappointment guys, Reds are finally about to play proper opposition.

          • March 14th 2012 @ 10:59am
            kingplaymaker said | March 14th 2012 @ 10:59am | ! Report

            Danny maybe that’s a good thing: it could force them into bolder selection instead of playing it safe.

            • March 14th 2012 @ 11:57am
              rl said | March 14th 2012 @ 11:57am | ! Report

              KPM, I think playing it safe for emminently winnable Aus conf matches, in the context of Cooper’s injury, was probably a reasonable (although unexciting) strategy. Better to be 3 from 3 going off to some tough matches in the Republic, where they may well come back empty-handed. Also better that Cooper comes back to a team that has some reasonable table position – if he comes back with the expectation of dragging the Reds into contention, that might be a bit too much.

              In Harris’ defence, it’s a big expectation to come in for Cooper, and his backline isn’t completely in sync with him, yet. It would be the same if Genia (heaven forbid) was out of action. But I agree, maybe Lucas (or Lance) should have been given time at 10.

              Not sure any 17 year old is ready to be thrown in to a Aus derby, let alone against SA or NZ teams. I’ll trust Link’s judgement on them.

              • March 14th 2012 @ 1:05pm
                kingplaymaker said | March 14th 2012 @ 1:05pm | ! Report

                rl I wouldn’t say Mckenzie is beyond and above criticism.

                Perhaps now when playing the weaker teams it would have been a good time to try out youngsters.

                I hope to see more of these youths soon.

                Not least for the Wallabies’ sake.

              • Roar Rookie

                March 14th 2012 @ 5:31pm
                Die hard said | March 14th 2012 @ 5:31pm | ! Report

                So you DO think the Australian teams are the weakest teams?

    • Roar Guru

      March 14th 2012 @ 8:45am
      Hoy said | March 14th 2012 @ 8:45am | ! Report

      I said early on Harris was not going to be fantastic for the Reds at 10. If he is going to play there, he needs to run it more often and offload in the mould of McAllister. Anyone seeing this bloke play in Europe now will wonder why he can’t replicate that form in the South, but that is for another thread maybe.

      Lucas made a massive difference when he came on. He was bustling the Reds forward, and I think was the reason they pushed the Rebels line so much from about 55 minutes on.

      Basic skills from the Reds have been way down on what they were last year.

      I would say the shining light so far has been Taps in the backs, and the forwards are going OK. Higgers might want to step up a bit in the republic, but his lineouts show more involvement this year.

    • March 14th 2012 @ 9:23am
      Pillock said | March 14th 2012 @ 9:23am | ! Report

      While the Reds are 3 from 3, they are certainly not playing with the same confidence and flair as last year. A lot to do with Cooper’s absence but also the heavy marking of Genia by opponents. A lot of basic errors in handling is also stopping any flowing footy which they did so well last year.
      The NZ sides seem to be playing a faster up tempo style while the Reds/Tahs/Force games have been pretty ordinary to watch. Be interesting to see if the Reds can step up to the plate and get some of the mojo back.

      • March 14th 2012 @ 10:22pm
        Sprigs said | March 14th 2012 @ 10:22pm | ! Report

        Dead right.

        The NZ teams are “playing a faster up tempo style”.

        The Highlander forwards are a good example.

        They are quite amazing to watch, but must be hell to play against.

        What’s got into them? I think their national team will be better than the one that took the Cup.

    • Columnist

      March 14th 2012 @ 10:10am
      Brett McKay said | March 14th 2012 @ 10:10am | ! Report

      I think it was Paul that suggested that the Reds are playing as if they’re in a holding pattern waiting for the return of Cooper, and this certainly looked the case on Sat night.

      Agree that McKenzie’s comments about the lack of yellow cards are a case of mistakenly looking outward when the problem quite likely lays within. That said, I mentoned during the game that any outstanding invoices John Muggleton has with the Rebels should be paid immediately, for his defensive influence is suddenly front and centre, as the Reds discovered all too often.

      Tough games coming up this weekend for all the Australian sides: the Sharks will be tough to beat in Durban, the Brumbies will have to play inspired to stick with the Chiefs in Tauranga, the Tahs and Force will be desperate as each other, and the Cheetahs had already marked the Rebels as their other ‘could win’ game. Good luck tipsters..

      • March 14th 2012 @ 10:32am
        johnny-boy said | March 14th 2012 @ 10:32am | ! Report

        You’re about right Brett. I think (or hope) they have been holding something in reserve unlike the kiwi teams which are prematurely expending all their energy (deference to the Mez :)). Trying a few things, giving some borderline selections a chance. As others have said Morahans time at fullback is limited as is Harris’s at 1st five. That’s fine, it’s good to know now and if they dont take their chances they’re probably not ready for it. Morahan is a bloody good wing. I dont think they are in holding pattern until Cooper tho.
        They simply can’t afford to as he might just as soon collapse again. Time for Lucas to show us how good Connolly thought he was. I think the return of Adam Wallace Harrison will boost the team big time too eventually.. A very smart player imo, for a lock.

        • March 14th 2012 @ 12:08pm
          Rugbug said | March 14th 2012 @ 12:08pm | ! Report

          Please explain how the NZ teams are prematurely expending all their reserves?
          This comment leaves me laughing after the other day you infered that NZ teams could not improve whilst the Tahs were only playing at 60%
          Its algood to have bias we all have a little bit of it, but don’t let reality slip to far away JB.

          The Reds will be tested big time in South Africa and after there rather timid start to the season I’m not sure they are going to be ready for the huge step up in intensity that will come from the Sharks and Bulls. if the reds can get a couple of bonus points at least it should set them right for the finals.

      • Roar Guru

        March 14th 2012 @ 11:39am
        Sam Taulelei said | March 14th 2012 @ 11:39am | ! Report


        I was wondering the same thing myself following Ewen’s comments after their game against the Force when he first responded to criticisms over his teams lack of fluency by blaming opposition teams blatant efforts to slow their ball down and incurring penalties rather than tries. To be fair Richard Graham after the game was also critical of the uncertainty at the breakdown with players still getting used to differing interpretations.

        However when the Force played their first inter conference match last weekend, the breakdown was hotly contested between both sides and the Hurricanes were able to exploit gaps in their defence through quick passing and quick thinking after they created space from turnover ball or quicker recycling of the ball.

        The Tahs have been the most impressive Australian side so far and were it not for last minute tries and penalties they would have a perfect record.

        The Reds are a quality side so there is no reason to feel they are on the slide in comparison to their form last year. While they won’t be happy with their execution in attack and defence so far, they’re still winning and as everyone knows – winning is a nice habit to have.

    • March 14th 2012 @ 12:28pm
      Red Kev said | March 14th 2012 @ 12:28pm | ! Report

      The Reds have been “doing enough” which is a dangerous strategy if you come up against an opposition that is firing on all cylinders (the Sharks don’t look to be, but the Bulls are).
      I agree with a lot of what was written and posted above; selections will show how serious Mckenzie is:
      If Daley retains the no.1 jersey then it is clear Ewen has lost the plot and there will be at least one if not two Reds props in the sin bin during the match.
      If Lucas isn’t starting at 10 then Ewen clearly didn’t watch the game his team played against the Rebels.
      If Davies starts at fullback then I want some of what Mckenzie is smoking because cover tackling and security under the high ball (pretty much a fullback’s job description) are not in Rod’s list of positive attributes.
      I would like to see Lucas at 10, Harris and Tapuai take the centre spots for the rest of the year (Fainga’a can be a waterboy) and Lance shifted to fullback where he excelled under pressure last year. I’d also like to see Holmes starting in the front row. Wallace-Harrison replacing Simmons will be a plus when he’s back too.

      • March 14th 2012 @ 2:12pm
        rl said | March 14th 2012 @ 2:12pm | ! Report

        agree Kev – after a long wait I think Holmes’ time has come again.

      • March 14th 2012 @ 5:50pm
        Denby said | March 14th 2012 @ 5:50pm | ! Report

        Red Kev,
        Great post. It is amazing to finaly hear a Red supporter describe Faingaa for what he is, a great club rugby player who does not have the talent, size, speed or power to play Super Rugby. The guy gives his all but Cooper made him look better than he was all last year.
        Taps is quality and Harris is a better center than flyhalf.
        I always thought Simmons was also over rated.

        • March 15th 2012 @ 4:20pm
          Red Kev said | March 15th 2012 @ 4:20pm | ! Report

          I actually though Simmons played really well last year, for both the Reds and the Wallabies. But he has been pretty poor so far this season.

    • March 14th 2012 @ 12:44pm
      redsnut said | March 14th 2012 @ 12:44pm | ! Report

      “”The Tahs have been the most impressive Australian side so far and were it not for last minute tries and penalties they would have a perfect record.””

      What a ridiculous statement. You could say that about any team – if they hadn’t lost so many matches …………
      And if the Rebels hadn’t lost so many matches, they’d be the champions.

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