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Five things: The Reds have flipped the script - and it promises to be rewarded at the Wallabies selection table

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6th May, 2024
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Under Les Kiss, the Queensland Reds have flipped the script.

They’ve gone from a side that won two of their previous 15 trans-Tasman fixtures across the previous three seasons to winning three of five matches in 2024.

Additionally, their points differential record has gone from -77 in 2023, -85 in 2022 and -84 in 2021 to +30 in five fixtures against traditional New Zealand opposition this season.

It’s also the first time since 2013 that the Reds have won three matches in a season against New Zealand.

What’s more, the two defeats they have had in 2024 have come off the last play of the match.

They are the crucial stats Joe Schmidt will pay particular attention to when selecting his Wallabies squad because winning against New Zealand opposition counts.

It’s where you find out if a Wallabies contender can handle the physical onslaught, ruck contest and kick chase that you get when you take on New Zealand opposition.

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It’s no surprise therefore that every press conference Kiss has he talks about the need to dominate the ruck zone to ensure his team gets quick ball. Kiss knows the international game well.

He also knows Schmidt, having coached alongside him for years.

So far only the Reds have been able to consistently measure up to their trans-Tasman rivals.

The Brumbies still have work to do on that front despite their win over the Hurricanes in Canberra a fortnight ago; one win out of three against New Zealand’s front-runners, with two no-shows included, isn’t good enough.

It goes against Schmidt’s consistency pillar he continues to speak about.

Harry Wilson’s performances in 2024 have helped the Reds flip the script against their New Zealand rivals. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

The Brumbies’ underwhelming showing against the Drua also showed that controlling the contact zone and physicality battle is still a work in progress.

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The Waratahs were demolished in that area against the Hurricanes while the Force too couldn’t contain the Chiefs either.

Kevin Foote’s Rebels might have stuck with the Blues for the first half, but that likely had more to do with the Blues trying to expand their game by playing with width first.

Indeed, when Vern Cotter’s side decided to go through the middle in the second half the Rebels couldn’t keep up with them.

All that means is the Reds’ players on the periphery of Wallabies selection are crawling their way up the charts.

In particular, lock Ryan Smith and loose-forward Liam Wright, two players who don’t represent the physical threat others in Australian rugby offer, are starting to mount a case for Wallabies selection.

They’re doing so through work rate and doggedness.

MIND THE GAP

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Although Australia’s Super Rugby sides have fared better against their trans-Tasman opposition, the gap between the two rivals is still clear.

While the Reds’ success has been well noted, and the Brumbies are always a punter’s chance, the 29, 27 and 47 thrashings the three other Australian sides copped is a better measurement to work out the health of the country.

Nor are they one-offs either, with those same three sides copping 16, 39 and one-point beatings the week earlier.

Jake Gordon’s Waratahs suffered their eighth loss of the season. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

And unless Rugby Australia can dip into their pockets, they won’t be able to ensure the gap completely closes any time soon, if ever.

Several Waratahs players have already signed overseas while others are looking elsewhere too.

Ditto, the Reds and Rebels.

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Having one or two competitive sides isn’t good enough.

It needs at least three – and that’s the challenge Rugby Australia has in front of them: how to ensure competitiveness extends beyond the minority and expands to the majority.

SET-PIECE WOBBLES SPELLS BAD NEWS FOR BRUMBIES AND WALLABIES

The sight of the Brumbies’ pack being smashed at the scrum isn’t just a concern for Stephen Larkham but Schmidt too.

That’s because the Brumbies are Australia’s highest-placed side in Super Rugby and more often or not games can be won and lost at the set-piece.

The Force haven’t had a set-piece for years and as such have struggled.

Ditto the Waratahs.

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Allan Alaalatoa recently made his way back from injury but the Wallabies’ front-row stocks aren’t exactly healthy. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

The Rebels have grown in that area but the absence of a meaty second-rower like Lukhan Salakaia-Loto in recent weeks has shown that weight counts.

The Reds are Australia’s big movers in 2024 but that’s in part because of the arrival of former All Black turned Samoan prop Jeffery Toomaga-Allen to pack down alongside Fijian front-rower Peni Ravai.

Without the foundations they’ve set, the Reds would have suffered.

But what it means is that Schmidt has two fewer props to choose from when it comes to international duty.

They’re not alone either, with Force tight-head prop Santiago Medrano an important and regular starter for the franchise.

The Waratahs, too, are missing Angus Bell (foot) and have English-qualified Hayden Thompson-Stringer filling the void at loose-head prop.

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So when the Fijians did a number on the Brumbies’ front-row, with Wallabies James Slipper and the recently returned Allan Alaalatoa packing down, it would have raised eyebrows for Schmidt.

He would have noted too that the Brumbies’ second-row pair was one of the lighter duos going around, but that’s a theme across the entire Australian rugby landscape.

AUSSIE DERBY HAS MORE ON THE LINE THAN VICTORY

The Waratahs missed the jump in Wellington.

The clearest example of that was when the Waratahs had a scrum feed on their own 22-metre line in the third minute but were totally pushed backward and conceded within seconds.

Yet, for the remainder of the match the Waratahs’ scrum, in fact, managed to hold its own despite missing half-a-dozen front-rowers.

That in itself showed how slow out of the gates the Waratahs were against the Hurricanes and that’s inexcusable for a side who went into the match with a 2-7 record.

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The struggles continued, with the Waratahs being smashed in the contact zone as they allowed the Hurricanes to go through them and offload at will.

Now the Waratahs return to Sydney to take on the Brumbies.

Fifteen months ago, there were 25,000 fans to watch the season-opener.

They will be lucky to get half that number on Saturday as the Brumbies travel up the Hume Highway to take on their arch-rivals.

The injury-stricken Waratahs best turn up because if they don’t, it will be impossible to spin another no-show any other way.

IT’S A BIG WEEK FOR … CARTER GORDON

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Twelve months ago, Gordon was being spruiked by Eddie Jones as the next Butch James and a player of immense potential.

In the end, Jones took Gordon to the World Cup.

We know how that all ended but since then Gordon has delivered moments of brilliance coupled with some shotty kicking that has led many to question his worth to the Wallabies.

Now, after the investment of a World Cup, Gordon is questioning his future in Australian rugby.

While Rugby Australia wants Gordon to stay, they don’t want to break the bank to keep him.

Carter Gordon’s future in Australian rugby is far from clear. Photo: Daniel Pockett/Getty Images

That’s fine if several other playmakers are better, but is there?

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At the moment it’s a close run race between a handful of Australia’s playmakers, including the rising Tom Lynagh, with Gordon towards the top.

Leading the Rebels to a maiden finals berth will help push his case over the coming weeks.

That starts on Friday night, with the Rebels, full of Queenslanders, heading to Brisbane to take on the Reds.

It’s a high-stakes game.

Christy Doran’s team of the week:

Isaac Kailea, Matt Faessler, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Josh Canham, Ryan Smith, Liam Wright, Fraser McReight, Harry Wilson, Kalani Thomas, Lawson Creighton, Mac Grealy, Tamati Tua, Len Ikitau, Tim Ryan, Jock Campbell

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