You’ll win nothing with kids

It was joy unconfined for the Queensland Reds this weekend, as they won their first ever Super Rugby final.  It’s a great result for Super Rugby, with a new name on the Cup, and a remarkable one for the Reds, who have come a long way in a short space of time.  If you cast your eye over their record in the last five years, it’s clear this is a meteoric rise: as recently as 2009 they were bottom dwellers. Last year, they soared to 5th place, just missing out on a play-off slot at the death.

P W D L F A +/- B Pt
2006 12th 13 4 0 9 240 320 −80 6 22
2007 14th 13 2 0 11 201 438 −237 3 11
2008 12th 13 3 1 9 258 323 −65 4 18
2009 13th 13 3 0 10 258 380 −122 4 19
2010 5th 13 8 0 5 366 308 +58 7 39

It shows the value of investing in a young, talented squad which can mature together over time. This can require some hard lessons and usually involves the team absorbing some heavy, punishing defeats along the way.  No doubt there were times when things looked grim (not least when the Bulls put 90 points on them in 2007) but their faith in youth has been handsomely rewarded, and the likes of Genia and Cooper look set to become global superstars this autumn. Serendipity also helped: had they sneaked into the play-offs last year, a punishing defeat in Pretoria was a real possibility – the team had completely run out of steam. The lack of mental hangup on the home straight was evident on Saturday.

Are there any teams in the cold and rainy Northern Hemisphere countries that could emulate the Reds zeroes-to-heroes feat? Whiff of Cordite has identified 4 possibilities:

Ulster: Building a side around a new generation of talented backs, with experience coming from Saffa beef up front.  Big improvement last season, with HEC quarter final and 3rd place ML finish after just scraping ahead of Connacht in 2010.
Can they be the NH Reds?  Have solid commercial base with room for improvement (albeit with laughable marketing strategies, more of which anon) but have been dealt a tough draw in the HEC. This could make them, but they maybe need another year to break through.

Llanelli Scarlets: Culled expensive imports two years ago in order to build new side around home grown talent.  Played some terrific rugby last season, not least in beating Perpignan in a remarkable game, but missed out on Magners playoffs.
Can they be the NH Reds? If anyone in Wales can break up the Irish dominance, it is they.  Pack needs toughening up, but their young Number 8, Ben Morgan, is outstanding. Another problem for Welsh teams is the Toulons of this world, who can offer fat cheques for re-location – the Reds’ biggest worry was Quade Cooper switching sports to League.

Ospreys: Several big names leaving this summer. Rebuild starts here, around home grown players such as Justin Tipuric and Kristian Philips.
Can they be the NH Reds?  Unlikely. Fanbase has still to materialise and the culture of the club needs overhaul as much as the playing staff. Plus Tommy Bowe surely has noticed most of his international team-mates have HEC medals (plural).

Harlequins: In process of rebuild following Bloodgate in 2009.  Playing an attractive brand of rugby in the Premiership (like Bath), they lost too many tight games last season.  Well coached by Conor O’Shea, they have already landed silverware, winning the Amlin Challenge Cup.
Can they be the NH Reds?  Have a good chance.  Look to have the right coach in place, and have solid pillars (Easter, Evans) to groom the youngsters, plus a loyal fanbase. Performance in Thomond Park demonstrated their talent. Have a real opportunity to sneak into the HEC knockout stages behind Toulouse.

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8 Comments

  1. Great performance by the Reds on Saturday – thought the Crusaders would do it reasonably comfortably but the Reds ability to score from broken play was the difference (why the attempted ankle tap Fotuali'i!!). It genuinely has been a pretty amazing season for them and I think it's fair to say that the most entertaining team in the competition won it which is always good. Crusaders seemed a little flat which is slightly worrying for Sept/Oct (for me anyway) – hopefully a couple of weeks off back home will sort them out.Thinking forward to the Tri-nations, it's interesting to note that S14 form doesn't necessarily translate into international form – look at South Africa's dismal performance last year after the Blues and Stormers completely dominated the competition. The Crusaders were the only kiwi team in the top-4 of the table and lost a semi away but the ABs still went unbeaten through the Tri-nations. Dingo Deans has picked 15 Reds in his first squad of the year so it will be very interesting to see if that influences Australian results through the Tri-nations. If it does I think Ireland will be consigned to 2nd-place in their group with all that entails.

  2. Hi ChrisCrusaders looked a bit tired in the last 20, but after a whole season on the road, they are more than entitled. It’s an incredible achievement to get to the final without a home stadium, and they were gracious in defeat, Brad Thorne especially.So, yes, attention now turns to the Tri-Nations. I’d be interested to find out what you think of there being a Tri Nations this year. England’s Nick Easter has already commented that it might tire a few players out, and South Africa have declared their hand to a certain extent by pulling 21 players from the opener.Picking 15 Reds is certainly a declaration of intent – I’ve always liked coaches that pick based on form, and it seems that Deans is set to do just that. Agreed – if the Aussies get selection right they’ll top the group, and should make the final from there.

  3. Would prefer there to be a Tri-nations, it's scaled back on last year with only a home and away matches (last year was 2 home/1 away or vice versa) so 4 matches each plus a 'friendly'. Compare that to what NH teams are doing: 3-4 matches each starting next month and you're looking at really only one additional match. Only difference is that the S15 players are coming off a big campaign – the NH players have had a month or two off.I'd prefer to be in the SH camp – you can't beat actual game time as preparation as both NZ and Ireland found out to their detriment last time around.

  4. I think you are right, broadly speaking.It all depends really on what teams are put on for the 3N – what are NZ going to do? Can they strike a balance between gametime and pre-RWC rest? Presumably Carter and McCaw are being wrapped in cotton wool? And how come Freuan mised out?

  5. Balance is what it's all about – I'd expect to see a core first XV turning out for most matches with a heavy use of the bench, perhaps a bit earlier in the piece than we might normally expect. NZers are a bit cautious about conditioning and resting players, particularly after that's all that the ABs coaches talked about before the last RWC and the first hard match we got to we went soft, so it's hard to see Carter/McCaw being dropped at any point. That said, Colin Slade has only played about 4 minutes all season so they might give him a run or two.Freuan became bizarrely unfashionable about halfway through the S15 for some unknown reason, although Conrad Smith is very classy, as is my personal mid-field fav Richard Kahui so it's a difficult midfield to break into. They must have thought that Nonu's experience trumps Freuen's potential.Most striking in the selection for me was no specialist open-side cover for McCaw who remember has only just coming back from injury. I think they've picked the new kid Hoeata because he can cover blindside which might leave the door open for Matt Tod as a bolter for the RWC squad.

  6. Yes – Todd has been very impressive filling in for Richie this season, and he is very similar, so it would seem ideal to bring him along, let him play for some of the strolls without disrupting the balance of the back row.Slade *has* to play – you can't have a situation where if Carter picks up a knock you have a total greenhorn coming in. Perhaps they will gave Slade one of the tougher ones (SA away maybe) see how he gets on. I know its anathema to pick a guy playing up here, but surely Nick Evans was worth talking into coming home for this S15 season – I know he bottled it against France last time out, but he is a much improved player, and probably the best 10 in the NH. Slade is raw, and Donald just doesn't really have it.Who's going to start at 9? Its probably the one position where no-one has really stood up and demanded the shirt…

  7. Agreed re: Slade – he should get a couple of runs. There's a similar logic as to why Richie won't be rested in that he's been out for a while and needs the game time. I'd expect to see Carter play the majority of the time but see Slade off the bench quite a bit early on – he may get a start or two to see how he goes.There's a few folks at home that would want Evans to come back – even for just the tournament itself. He's class, despite his and McAlister's refusal to drop a goal in Cardiff much to my torment. Personally, I support the NZRFU's position on overseas based players – they can't compete financially and so all they have is the jersey. If they allowed players to still play for the ABs from overseas they'd pretty much lose most of the small professional player base overnight (Ireland has more registered players than NZ) and so I think it's a fair trade – if you want the jersey you need to stay here. It keeps the lads that value the jersey at home.As for 9, you'd have to give it to Cowan as the incumbent. I'd have Ellis off the bench – Piri Weepu is pretty much the most awesomest dude ever to walk the planet but he's coming back from injury so he'll be in there but third choice. Leonard and Matthewson don't have it – it's a position we're missing a really dominating player at the moment.Donald is rubbish – Bath can have him. Cruden is too small.

  8. I fully agree with the NZRU, and the chink in the armour to let lads go North for a payday for a year is good too – Carter's 6 months in Perpignan probably ensured he'd stay after the RWC this time.You are right about that collection of 9s, its pretty uninspiring – and after Marshall and (especially) Kelleher its a bit of a come down. You would think that if Kelleher was at home and fit, he would hold on to the jersey with ease.

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