Legendary Reds and Wallabies prop, the late Stan Pilecki, was once attributed with the following quote, pre-match in the Wallabies’ dressing room.
“You blokes pat each other on the back when you make a mistake,” he told a modern Australian team. “In our day we’d walk up to that idiot and say, ‘Don’t f—ing do it again’.”
Frankly, after the Reds’ performance against the Sharks on Saturday night, they could do well to take heed of Pilecki’s advice.
While there may be some team issues to be improved at training, such as mauling and adapting to the rush defence, the Reds were significantly let down by individual errors and soft play. This was maddeningly exemplified when in the 74th minute the Sharks pinched another Reds ball and their number eight Sikhumbuzo Notshe ran 50 metres through four weak tackle attempts, including by relatively fresh bench players, to put winger Madosh Tambwe away for a try.
Yet despite this, there were head pats and cuddles all round when a Reds player needed consoling for a mistake or and even more when he did something good. This comically included when the Reds finally scored a try off a rolling maul in the 87th minute against a Sharks team reduced to 14 players, despite the fact that they had irretrievably lost the game and couldn’t get a bonus point.
Overall, the Sharks game continued the pattern of losses against good sides – the Brumbies, Lions and Jaguares before this – where the Reds play well for the first half but then capitulate in the second. They were all tough matches that included away games after a lot of travel and tough conditions, but on the law of averages a decent team should have found a way to win at least one of them.
The try fest against the Sunwolves last week gloriously demonstrated the fruits of Reds attack coach Jim McKay’s hard work in creating a flowing attack, when the Reds do all the things leading up to the backs running riot. However, it is no secret that the Sunwolves are not very good and in games against the better teams, mistakes in other elements of the game are preventing the Reds from translating that attacking potential into wins.
While coaches can do a lot to motivate a team, in the case of the Reds it has become clear that the players need to take more responsibility for their individual performance and to hold each other to account for them.
It doesn’t necessarily mean swearing at a teammate for making a mistake like would have happened in Pilecki’s day, but if a mate stuffs something up then don’t make him feel better about it by hugging him. Don’t say anything and let him live with a bit of discomfort, knowing that he has let his team down. It is amazing how that can sharpen the mind.
Perhaps the Reds could also tone down the try celebrations and leave the self-congratulatory behaviour until they have actually won. Because at the moment they seem to have been going into the sheds at half time a bit smug, after which the oppositions have come out at them like a bat out of hell and won the game in the second half.
Finally on Brad Thorn, Bryce Hegarty recently spoke on how the Reds players have backed Brad Thorn for the way he has built their team.
Given the number of young players that Thorn has given a chance to and ultimately developed into regular Reds players and even Wallabies, this loyalty would seem to be well and truly deserved.
Many supporters also like what Thorn has done, but the reality is that there are many other fans who for various reasons have gripes with Thorn and if the Reds do not dramatically improve over the rest of the season, the chorus to have him removed as Reds coach will become hard for the QRU to ignore.
Tim Horan recently gave the Reds a reasonable pass mark of eight wins this season and they have 11 games left in which to achieve that. If the Reds players are as loyal to Thorn as is suggested, then they need to put the maximum physical and mental effort into their individual games and start playing like they mean it.