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'Breathing life back into Australian rugby': How Reds revolution can supercharge several Wallaby careers

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Roar Rookie
11th March, 2024
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The Reds performances against Kiwi opposition over the past two weeks are the most impressive back to back by an Australian side since 2014.

That is not hyperbole or premature praise.

Forget that they lost the first game in golden point time and only just held on in the second.

With a tiny bit more composure, they’d have beaten New Zealand’s two best sides comfortably.

The Queensland backs have played with speed, movement and direction in a manner not seen since Messers Genia, Cooper and Ioane won the whole thing.

We could ask why it’s taken so long for Australian coaches to use some imagination. To make defences guess a little. But let’s focus on the now.

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Les Kiss and his back line assistant Brad Davis, seem to understand space, how to create it as well as how to use it.

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Josh Flook is a major beneficiary. He is the form back line player in Australian Rugby and must have already caught Joe Schmidt’s eye.

Josh Flook. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Like many of the Reds this season, Flook is noticeably bigger and more powerful than last year. He variably glides, gallops and bulldozes himself through defences.

Len Ikitau should certainly be looking over his shoulder given Flook seems to instinctively fit in at outside centre, a notoriously difficult position to defend. He is not an impostor or winger experimenting.

Hunter Paisami might also be a little nervous after the performance of Isaac Henry. He looked for all the world like a cross between Tim Horan and Jean de Villiers playing inside Flook. A centre who knows how to pass as well as straighten up.

And it hasn’t just been hard running centres who have made an impression. Some smaller guys with intestinal fortitude have done pretty well too.

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While much focus has predictably been on Tane Edmed and Ben Donaldson, it is hard to argue that either have performed as well as young Tom Lynagh or even Harry McLaughlin-Phillips.

On a weekend his brother Louis was debuting for Italy, young Tom was outplaying Damian McKenzie. He was poised and deliberate, did all the simple things well, made those around him grow a foot.

We all noticed it and apparently so did the Chiefs coaching box. Tom was ironed out very soon after half-time in what was a late assault by Samipeni Finau that looked more than a little calculated.

Young Lynagh will be tested and teams are entitled to run at him all day long, to rough him up. But if that hit had been on say Dan Carter, we wouldn’t hear the end of it.

That no yellow card (at least) was shown by Ben O’Keeffe was an obscene decision. But I digress.

The performances of Flook and Lynagh have been possible primarily because of a Queensland pack that is getting parity with and often dominating its opposition.

Given that the Kiwis have veritably trounced us in physicality and smarts at the breakdown for a decade, this aspect of the Reds resurgence can’t be understated.

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Fraser McReight of the Reds scores a try against the Chiefs. (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

We haven’t had consistent ruck parity with New Zealand’s provincial sides since Jacques Potgeiter was playing alongside peak Michael Hooper in sky blue.

If Flook is the form back of Australian Rugby, Fraser McReight must be the form forward.

McReight made 19 tackles and 2 turnovers against the Chiefs in a performance that rivaled his immense shift against the Hurricanes.

Together with Harry Wilson and Liam Wright, he has formed part of a balanced back row trio that has not only bulked up but aimed up.

All three players should also have caught the attention of the new national set-up. Wright looks a lot like the second coming of Scott Fardy to me.

Queensland’s tight five, led by the severely underrated Matt Faessler, also deserves plenty of attention for their grit and physicality.

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The Reds scrum, lineout and maul have been outstanding early in the season. Queensland certainly dominated the Chiefs in those areas, winning at least five penalties in tight.

Zane Hilton who, if my memory serves me correctly played hooker for Queensland as a schoolboy in 1998, deserves a lot of credit.

It is still early days in the season and the Reds have growth left. Maturity to come.

There are a few kinks to iron out to ensure they aren’t leaving points out there or letting sides into games.

A decision needs to be made to bench Suliasi Vunivalu and Jordan Petaia who have not been good. Vunivalu’s kicking game in particular is not of standard and he is a liability.

Yet, there is a growing feeling that the nucleus of this Reds side led by a bloke the players call ‘Kissy’ might just breathe some life back into Australian rugby.

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