Queensland Reds coach Brad Thorn is considering his future at the franchise after watching his exciting young team fall painfully short in the Super Rugby AU final.
Late last year I wrote an article titled ‘The Aussie Super Rugby teams should not ruin the 2019 Super Rugby season by resting Wallabies’.
In it, I argued that the highly improbable scenario of Michael Cheika coaching the Wallabies to World Cup success this year meant that it wasn’t worth risking a good Australian Super Rugby season by resting Wallabies from Super Rugby duties.
It’s a sentiment I stand by and subsequent events have shown the cost of this policy to the Super Rugby teams, with four players being injured during a hill-running exercise at Cheika’s January training camp.
Why would the best professional rugby players in the country need schoolboy motivational strategies to maintain their personal fitness?
That Cheika couldn’t come up with better use of the Wallabies’ valuable time has only reinforced my view that it is going to be a tough World Cup to be Australian.
The other event that raised red flags about the rotation policy was the Waratahs’ home loss against the Sunwolves in Round 7.
A week after beating tournament leaders the Crusaders, Bernard Foley, Jack Dempsey and Adam Ashley-Cooper were all rested during this game.
This led to questions about whether coach Daryl Gibson should have rested his players for a game that was considered to be a bankable win had they played their full squad.
Do Australian teams compete in Super Rugby to win trophies, or are they in it to get an acceptable number of wins against lower-ranked teams? I reckon most fans would expect the answer to be to win trophies.
If they are in Super Rugby to win trophies, then they need to be able to beat the best teams.
Having their best players get adequate rest during the season can only help them beat the best teams.
Therefore, even discounting the Wallabies resting policy, Australia’s back-up Super Rugby players need to capable of beating the weaker teams so that the best players can be fresh for the tougher games.
Starting games against weaker teams can also serve as a valuable opportunity for the back-up players to gain experience, providing Australia’s teams with much needed depth.
So based on these considerations, Daryl Gibson’s decision to rest his best players against the Sunwolves was a reasonable calculated risk, which unfortunately didn’t pay off on this occasion.
This brings me to my own team, the Queensland Reds, who have just enjoyed their first win against the Sharks in Durban for 15 years.
This game demonstrated that the Reds are looking more and more like a genuine team, not just a collection of individuals, with every player being a cog in the machine.
However, blockbusting Reds captain Samu Kerevi played a major role in the win. His frenetic work rate and powerful impact in attack gave the Reds a great deal of go-forward, and the skipper played a direct role in two out of their three tries.
There is a parallel here with the Waratahs’ situation, as the Reds will come off this good win onto a bye and then play the Sunwolves at home in a fortnight.
The question is whether Samu Kerevi – who has played every game this season – should be rested.
Should coach Brad Thorn play it safe and bank the win against the Sunwolves, opting to rest Kerevi for Wallabies duties during a tougher game later in the season, for example away against the Chiefs in late May?
Or should he risk the Sunwolves game and the torrent of criticism that would come if the Reds lost by resting Kerevi in a fortnight?
I would prefer that the Reds play Super Rugby to win, and take the risk like Gibson did with his Waratahs.
Kerevi’s likely replacement, Duncan Paia’aua, is a classy inside centre who has had a slow season due to what looks like a case of the yips with his handling.
However, an intensive fortnight’s training to get him back up to his previous standard of excellence – and with in-form players like Bryce Hegarty and Chris Feauai-Sautia either side of him – I’d back the Dunc to fill Kerevi’s boots to beat the Sunwolves.
I hope that Australian Super Rugby coaches continue to take risks like Gibson did with his Waratahs and I hope that fans cut them a bit of slack if it doesn’t pay off.
Because taking risks is what will raise Aussie rugby out of mediocrity and into genuine competitiveness.