The news that our captain, Liam Wright, is injured and out of Super Rugby AU for ten weeks, stinks.
It stinks for Wright, his teammates and Reds supporters.
This is the year that the Reds’ hard work under Brad Thorn’s values-based coaching looks most likely to win some silverware, so the loss of Wright is a heavy blow.
However, the situation will create opportunities for Wright along with his back-row partners, Fraser McReight, Angus Scott-Young and Harry Wilson, to grow their games.
For Wright, the reality is that with a body mass index of 26.6, he is on the skinny side to be a regular Test starter at number seven, and is simply too light for a starting six.
A sustained weight-gain effort right into his mid to late 20s may be required for Wright to get to really come to his own in Tests, but two and a half extra months of “pre-season” to hit the weights, seems like too good an opportunity to ignore.
Perhaps Wright could also pair up with the Reds rugby analyst, to help the coaches and improve his own knowledge of the game? Wright is a smart captain, but there are times in the thick of things when he might have adapted to a situation like a failing lineout by switching to a scrum at the right time.
More time in front of the video screen could be a fantastic opportunity for Wright to improve his decision-making.
Fraser McReight performed brilliantly in 2020 with his defence, pilfering and speed winning him the Reds seven jersey and a Wallabies call up. However, if he wants a Wallabies starting spot, he needs to demonstrate the handling skills necessary for a modern seven.
During the Super Rugby AU 2020 semi-final against the Rebels, McReight bombed a likely try for the Reds, by not passing from left to right when the back outside him faced a stretched defence.
He also dropped an offloaded ball from Filipo Daugunu the final, which was difficult though not impossible to catch and which could have led to a breakout. A seven needs handling skills to be reliable under pressure, this should be a focus for McReight this season.
McReight might also improve the impact that he has in defence by learning to anticipate the attack and position himself to pose a threat with his pilfering. He has the potential to stifle an attack by limiting it to one side of the field, by using smart positioning to influence the opponent’s decisions with his presence, rather than by predictably following the ball around.
Angus Scott-Young probably has the most to gain from his captain’s misfortune this season, with a starting spot at number six looking assured. To make the most of it he might like to keep in mind that with Ned Hanigan leaving for France, there is a hybrid lock/flanker spot up for grabs in the Wallabies this season.
Scott-Young is everything that Hanigan got panned for not being when he started with the Wallabies in 2017, a stereotypical number six who is highly physical in defense and attack.
Hanigan only bought the sort of physicality that Scott-Young has at 23 after a couple of years more experience at 25. Scott-Young is also an excellent defensive organiser and a competent lineout jumper.
What lets Scott-Young down, is that he plays the “invisible number six” role a bit too well, getting on with the hard graft but not doing much to be noticed. In contrast, Wright is always on the lookout for a winning advantage, be it sniffing around a ruck on the opponents try line to steal a try, or learning to be a top lineout stealer in just one season.
Also, on the two games last year where the Reds played really badly, against the Sharks and against the Waratahs in Sydney, Scott-Young let his own game suffer with defensive lapses.
Wright doesn’t seem to allow a bad situation get to him, when the Reds are in trouble he leads by ramping up the effort to try to change the momentum. Wright’s absence is an opportunity for Scott-Young to follow those examples from his captain and force his way into the selector’s vision.
The final member of the Reds back row, number eight Harry Wilson, looks assured of his spot and would be a good pick for captain in Wright’s absence.
He has become a regular Wallaby without looking at all perturbed, showing that he can handle pressure, and his work ethic and manner when he speaks suggests he would be respected in the team.
I can’t wait to get into the stands at Suncorp on 19 February against the Waratahs to cheer on our Men in Red, bring it on!