The family and I went along to Suncorp Stadium on Friday night to watch the Reds take on the Melbourne Rebels. We were confident of a win — Gillian (known as Redslug on Superbru) had picked Queensland to win by 5; I was even more confident to the tune of 12 points, mainly due to Mark Gerrard‘s absence, which I believed would have a significant effect on Melbourne’s game. What we saw was a 53-to-3 massacre that seemed to come out of nowhere.
As a Reds fan, it would be easy for me to fall into the trap of praising my side for a comprehensively strong display. Although I believe they played better than they have in any other game this year, there are still questions to be asked — about the scrum and ball security in particular, and the hole that seems to be opening at outside centre that is screaming to be filled.
Queensland had clearly worked on their structure and have found ways to give Quade Cooper some time to use his attacking skills. And it was clear that the “cut them in half” defence we all loved to see last year was back. There will still be a few sore old bones in the Rebels camp today.
But the real question is: what happened to the Rebels side I watched last week?They started out pretty well, but after the first 15 minutes they fell away and were continually pushed back in defence and attack. The only points they registered came from three successive penalties conceded by the Reds, helping them downfield to within goal-kicking distance.
I can’t put my finger on the reason for their problems. They clearly have gifted players and of course a World Cup-winning coach. But they just don’t seem to have a real plan.
Maybe it is their multinational flavour that is killing them. You know the Bulls will play Jurassic Rugby, the Crusaders will smother you and the Reds want to run. But what style of rugby do a bunch of guys from half-a-dozen different countries play?
The Bulls, Crusaders and any other club team in any competition you care to mention have a collective mentality. They generally have a core of guys that a coming from the same place, and those guys instil a culture into the rest of them. If you think of the Highlanders you immediately think of huge guys, mullets and Jimmy Cowan. The Bulls: huge guys, Victor and flat track bully Botha. Now think of the Rebels. Keep thinking. That’s right… nothing! There is no group mentality. No élan. No culture. How do you fix that? How do you melt down 30 individuals and build a dynasty out of them? Don’t ask the sparky from the Gold Coast; he has no idea. If he did he’d be making a lot of money out of it and not spending his leisure time writing this match report.
Back to the game. As I watched it, there were a couple of referring decisions that upset me, and clearly a few people sitting near me too. I have reviewed the tape and am willing to apologise to Stuart Dickinson for my criticism. But unfortunately, Stu, while I reviewed the incidents I noticed your lack of control of the breakdown. Players running full steam into rucks and using their bodies as flying rams clearly isn’t acceptable. And while the Reds definitely benefited from your neglect in this area, I hope you take this small criticism on board and take a look at the issue.
Taking a quick look at the Reds team, there are still some issues with the front row. Daley at loosehead is OK when he hits his bind but he seems to miss it a lot; he also seems to be tight in the hip flexors and this seems to stop him keeping his hips lower than his shoulders. This is a structural problem that would take a lot of work to correct. Unlike others, I can see little wrong with Fainga’a and Slipper in the front row.
Adam Wallace-Harrison is looking like a very smart buy by Ewen McKenzie. He, and to a lesser extent Rob Simmons, destroyed the Rebels’ lineout, and both had strong games around the field. Beau Robinson continued his strong form — he definitely deserves his contract. Leroy Houston had the strongest game I have seen him play. I wish he would use his bulk more. Higginbotham was everywhere.
Genia and Cooper both made a few mistakes, but you can expect this from players who handle the ball so often. Cooper was the official Man of the Match and his kicking and passing were pretty much spot-on all game.
Anthony Fainga’a had his best game of the season. However, Ben Tapuai looked out of position at 13. Digby Ioane and Rod Davies both ran hard and looked for work, and Ben Lucas looks more at home at 15 every week. Michael Harris had the commentators screaming about his Australian grandmother, but I have never met a born-and-raised Kiwi who had the slightest interest in the Wallaby jersey, so I wouldn’t be counting on that prospect any time soon. I would still ask though. At 186 centimetres and 96 kilos he certainly knows how to throw his weight around, and his kicking seems inch-perfect.
Radike Samo was Radike Samo-like. I just love watching him play. So did the five-year-old two rows in front of me who couldn’t believe the big fella’s hair when his image came up on the big screen.
I wonder if this result will help or hinder the Reds. It will certainly help their confidence, but maybe it’s built on a shaky base. Time will tell.