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These are not easy days to be a Queensland Reds fan.
Sitting through the debacle that was the humbling 63-28 demolition at the hands of the Sunwolves on Saturday afternoon was a painful experience, from the first phase right through to the last. Pundits are piling on, and that can’t be a surprise, as they have been given plenty of ammunition by such an inept performance.
The difficult question now, though, is where to from here? What answers can the Reds find before next Friday night, when a frighteningly good Hurricanes team lies in wait in Wellington?
Is there anything the Reds can do to avoid another massacre? Perhaps not, but a few key changes must be made quickly to start pointing the team in the right direction.
Ben Lucas simply cannot be rewarded with another start after his diabolical first half against the Sunwolves. A loyal servant who has returned home this year, Lucas repeatedly put the game on a platter for the opposition in the opening 40, offering numerous charge downs, an intercept when on attack, even kicking the ball into his own player’s back.
He simply doesn’t offer enough threat to justify these mistakes. Moses Sorovi must be given an opportunity to run a game from the kickoff. While there will still be the odd mistake in his game, he does offer a threat with ball in hand, and experience will help him iron out the errors.
It’s time to bite the bullet and give him a decent run in the 9.
Outside him, Hamish Stewart must be reinstated at flyhalf. Again, he is still prone to the odd error, but his control and kicking game in the win over the Lions, as well as his line busting ability, demands that he be given the reigns and allowed to find his feet at first receiver.
His maturity means that he won’t be scarred by learning in the deep end, and while Brad Thorn has tried to protect him, he has to now acknowledge that he is the future of this team, and we need the future to start now. Jono Lance offers good cover on the bench and can shadow Stewart for the rest of this year until he heads overseas.
Perhaps riding out the season at fullback is also an option for Lance, a position he is familiar with, and one where he can still offer support for Stewart with his kicking game.
Chris Feauai-Sautia was one of the most talented juniors Queensland has ever produced, but it is time for us to realise that his undoubted potential will never be realised at the top level. He floats in and out of games, he falls off tackles and is often seen jogging when he should be sprinting.
The rare flashes of tackle-busting brilliance are not occurring often enough to justify his place anymore. Samu Kerevi needs to move back out to the number 13, where he will hopefully remember that his greatest skill is running hard, not skipping up to the defence in two minds like he does from inside centre.
At 12, the Reds need to reinstall second playmaker Duncan Paia’aua. His cameo in Japan showed promise, and with Stewart at 10, another ball player would be handy. The two young wingers are both worth persevering with, but a fully fit Izaia Perese would also demand selection.
Hopefully, that is not too far away.
Up front, there is hope. With so many unavailable in the pack, it’s not surprising the young Reds struggled on Saturday. Thorn should be admired for taking a hard line with the Smith twins, Ruan and JP, but the sooner they are back in the scrum the better.
Isaak Rodda looks like a future Reds skipper, and he continues to impress every week with his work rate and toughness. Kane Douglas has rediscovered some of his best form, but clearly, the Reds need Lukhan Tui to take up the mantle quickly.
Angus Scott-Young and Liam Wright show promise, but Adam Korczyk has failed to grasp his opportunities over a number of seasons. George Smith is still world class and justifies his place on form, but he needs the hard running of Caleb Timu alongside him to take some pressure off.
With Alex Mafi continuing to botch lineout throws, it would be very interesting to know exactly what Andrew Ready needs to do to be considered by Thorn again. On talent alone, he should demand a spot in the 23, but he seems to be offside with the coach, as he was with Nick Stiles last year.
Brandon Paenga-Amosa and Taniela Tupou continue to offer set-piece strength and running threat, but again, their focus should be the elimination of basic errors. This is a pack that needs to be given time to mature, and in three years could be world class.
The question will be, do Queensland fans have the patience?
Supporting such a young, inexperienced team will always produce disappointing days like Saturday, and the easy answer is to be angry. That’s not an emotion I am unfamiliar with as a Reds fan.
The focus must be solutions, though. Not throwing the baby out with the bathwater by declaring that Thorn will never be a good coach, clearly a misguided notion. Certainly not calling for the recall of players that we have been told won’t be wearing Red this year, and wouldn’t fix the problems anyway.
The skeleton of a really good team is starting to be built, and it is dark days like Saturday that will, hopefully, teach them some valuable lessons. They’ve got six days to show they are paying attention.