Queensland Reds fans are getting restless. And rightly so.
Reds coach Brad Thorn this week rebuffed questions about the possibility of reintroducing Quade Cooper to the fold as their season quickly slips away from them. Thorn maintained his hard line, stating the Reds were “going in a different direction”.
But what that direction is still remains to be seen and, in truth, it looks strikingly similar to the direction the Reds have been taking for several years now.
While Thorn has to be commended for his willingness to draw a line in the sand and back his methods, the continued exclusion of Cooper remains at best confusing and at worst embarrassing for Thorn, the Reds and Rugby Australia.
The details of Cooper’s salary and his willingness to pick it up while playing club rugby (and good on him for doing so) have been well documented, but it’s the growing portfolio of examples as to why Thorn is in the wrong on this matter that – combined with his headstrong attitude – has fans frustrated.
Boldly proclaiming you are taking a team in any direction when you’re losing more often than you’re winning is an odd strategy. Or, if you are going to tow that line, it may be useful to have some sort of substance to back yourself up and lead fans to believe that better results aren’t far away.
If the line about the different direction was in reference to Cooper being 30 years of age and a hint that the Reds are perhaps looking to the future, it makes 37-year-old George Smith’s recall this weekend even more bewildering.
Even if age has nothing to do with it and Thorn is attempting to build a way of playing (or ‘culture’ – the current buzz-word in Australian sport) that will carry the Reds into 2019, it seems silly to do it with Jono Lance as your primary play-maker given that Lance is off to Worcester at season’s end.
The Reds appeared to have a long-term replacement for Cooper lined up in 20-year-old Hamish Stewart. who made four appearances for the Reds last season, but he has found himself stuck behind the soon to depart Lance and his development – from the outside – appears to have stagnated.
Thorn’s calling card during his eight wins in ten games as coach of the Queensland Country side in the National Rugby Championship was defence. The talk in pre-season around the Reds was that the focus was all fitness.
The Reds are currently second in Super Rugby on the ladder for tackles won percentage – whatever the hell that means. The issue is it isn’t working because the Reds can’t score enough points of their own because their attack is lacking in penetration.
The Reds are averaging 26 points per game against them, 36 per game over their last three losses. Combine that with the fact they sit dead last on the ladder in tries scored with 13 – the Sunwolves have scored 20 – and it’s not a recipe for success.
Lance is a solid, if somewhat unspectacular, fly-half. If you are keeping teams to 20 points per game then he might do enough to get you over the line, but if you are conceding close to 30 points per game you’re going to need someone with a greater ability to unlock defences. Someone like Cooper, perhaps.
I wrote in an article several weeks ago that you can play boring football so long as you win. Winning buys you time. If you are losing, but play an entertaining brand of football, you will get less time, but you will get some time.
If you are losing, and boring the socks off of anyone watching while doing so, you will find that you have little to no time. After three straight losses, the latest an embarrassingly bland performance in a ‘rivalry’ game against the Waratahs where the Reds managed just one try, off an intercept, Thorn’s time has run out.
The Reds host the Chiefs at Suncorp Stadium this weekend and it’s hard to even visualise anything other than another Reds loss. If that is the case, Thorn had better prepare for more Cooper questions at next week’s press conferences, as with each Reds loss, Cooper’s stock rises further.