There’s one side so far this Super Rugby season that’s scored the most tries, comfortably made the most line breaks, racked up the most run metres with the ball and made the most offloads.
They’re near the top of the table, right?
Statistically strong but low on the ladder sit the Queensland Reds.
One win from six games puts them third in the Australian conference and tenth of 15 teams on the overall ladder.
That the Reds are struggling to that degree is a head-scratcher for stats-lovers, even when taking into account they’ve played one more game than a lot of other teams and they belted the weakest side in the competition – the Sunwolves – by 64-5.
Consider this: the Reds have scored 26 tries and according to Fox Sports, carried the ball for 4203 metres, made 51 line breaks and offloaded 70 times.
In average terms per game, the Reds (700) are second to the three-time defending champion Crusaders (745) in run metres with the big-improving Blues (662) next best. Per game, the Reds make 8.5 line breaks, ahead of the Crusaders (7.8), Waratahs (7) and Hurricanes (6.8). The Reds offload 11.7 times per game, which is second to the Crusaders (13.4) and ahead of the Sunwolves (9.6), Hurricanes (9.2), Rebels (9) and Chiefs (8.2). Queensland are also third when it comes to tackle busts.
Perhaps now is the most appropriate time to concede that statistical superiority isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The ladder-leading Sharks are last on the stats for line breaks, offloads and attack with seven or more phases, and are in the bottom bracket for run metres and tackle busts.
The defence stats for the Reds aren’t as impressive but they’re not dire either. They’ve been hurt by turnovers, which at almost 15 per game on average, is the third highest in the competition.
But it’s clear that the Reds know how to move the ball down the field efficiently. Brad Thorn and Liam Wright have bemoaned their failure to put their foot down when the game is there for the taking. Four of Queensland’s five losses have been by ten points or less. They should’ve knocked off the Crusaders in Christchurch last Friday night, out-scoring the home side four tries to three but missing all four conversions.
The Reds will be hardened by their opening six matches in which they’ve only taken on one Australian team, a clash that resulted in a 27-24 defeat to the Brumbies in Round 1. Bruising encounters against the Jaguares, Sharks and Crusaders over the last four games have them primed for a strong run of form. There’s a decent chance that the Reds could go on a run over their next six games, which would put them well in the frame for finals qualification.
First up, the Reds face a team that have also won only one match this season – the Bulls – and should have them covered in Brisbane on Saturday night.
The Reds have a bye the following week after which they’ve got five games before another bye in Round 14 at the start of May.
This period will make or break their chances of finals footy, and significantly, it’s also likely to decide whether Thorn gets offered another contract as coach beyond his current deal that expires at the end of 2020.
The Reds’ sequence is as follows: Brumbies (H), Sunwolves (A), Melbourne Rebels (H), Waratahs (A) and Highlanders (H).
They are all winnable if the Reds get their tails up and get into a groove. Having home-ground advantage against the Brumbies and Rebels is important. The Brumbies will be primed to take down the Reds as they follow their trip to Brisbane with an arduous draw of matches against the Hurricanes and Jaguares at home and their South African swing against the Sharks and Bulls.
The Reds will be snapping at the heels of the Brumbies by the start of May. There’s a spirit and solidarity at the Reds that has been strengthened during the first few months of this season. They are ready to get on a roll and will be competing for top spot in the Australian conference.
Thorn is still searching for his best combinations, although injuries haven’t helped. The loss of Jordan Petaia was massive. His replacement, the hard-edged Hunter Paisami, is out for this round with a knee injury. JP Smith is also missing because of illness.
In total, six changes have been made to face the Bulls. James O’Connor is back at five-eighth after recovering from an ankle injury, shifting the slick Isaac Lucas back to the bench. Chris Feauai-Sautia takes over at outside centre while Bryce Hegarty, their best goal-kicker, is wisely included on the wing. Scott Malolua keeps his gig at halfback, which may mean Thorn prefers Tate McDermott as a finisher off the bench.
Harry Hockings and Angus Blyth get a start in the second row with Izack Rodda still being rested. Lukhan Salakaia-Loto returns to the back row while Angus Scott-Young is on the bench.
It’s time for the Reds to turn their early-season promise into a run of wins. There’s been top-drawer skill and speed on show; the 80-metre Henry Speight try from a lineout win last week against the Crusaders was a perfect example.
The stats paint a picture of a side who are much better than where they currently sit, but the reality for the Reds is that the win column is the only number that needs to grow.