Rugby: Another day, another player is off to France

Rod Davies has signed to play rugby for the next two seasons with Biarritz Olympique in France. It is a very sad, more to the point another sad, day for Queensland and Australian rugby fans.  Sad in two respects:

  1. Rod Davies is a talismatic player for the Reds.  When he is on the field and the ball is in his hands the crowd lifts.  You can almost here the fans, me included, thinking and saying “go on Rocket!!!”.  He is a player who brings young fans through the gates and will be missed by the team, the members and the fans.
  2. Yet again Australian rugby has been unable to retain a player playing in our top domestic competition and perenially on the cusp of Australian selection.  Rather, the player has preferred to play in the second division of French rugby for a team that won 5 of 20 games in the French Top 14 last year.  I am all for players setting themselves up for their careers post rugby but it saddens me that that same opportunity is not afforded to such a player in Australia.

Rod Davies is one of my favourite players to watch and I will miss him running around in a Reds jersey.  I am left to lament now his loss from Australian rugby and to ponder who might be next to chase the money (and future security).

Reds v Highlanders: Six thoughts from an epic encounter

The Queensland Reds defeated the Highlanders last night in a pulsating clash at Lang Park that ended with a Reds try after the siren after the Highlanders had launched a might comeback. I have been pondering this game much since leaving the ground and 6 key thoughts have continued to resonate so I thought I would share them:

1. Been a long time since I was so excited by a win: boy the Reds needed that!

I have been a member of the Reds for a long time and a fan even longer. The last time I hugged the bloke next to me in overjoyed celebration at the end of a Reds game was when the Reds bested the Crusaders to win the championship in 2011. That was until last night: the emotion in the crowd, let alone on the field, at the end of last night’s game was indicative of how much this victory really meant for the Reds. It has been a season of lament but this victory will be long remembered.

2. The emotion of the victory should not mask how bad this Reds season has been

There is a golf analogy that is apt: “there is always one shot that keeps you coming back no matter how bad you play”. This win by the Reds could well have the same effect: in the wash up of a terrible season this game could be remembered and, indeed, mask what has been some terrible rugby by the Reds in 2014. Not wanting to take the shine of a great night but there were still signs of how bad the Reds have been this year in last nights win: silly penalties and options still were prevalent as was some lacking defence under pressure.

3. Will that win save Richard Graham? Probably but it shouldn’t

I was listening to Tim Cox’s program on 612 ABC on the way to the ground last night and heard one of the panelists comment that Richard Graham’s job has to be safe because the Reds will not want to go back to the dark days of changing coaches every year after bad results. I concede that I agree with that concept, in theory, but I can not agree with it as a principal justification for keeping a non-performing coach. This win will help Graham’s cause as will avoidance of a hard decision by the QRU but all of the statistics point to a coach, in Graham, who is not up to Super Rugby. Take his whole record and the squads that he has had and that is the only available conclusion. He should go in my opinion but will not.

4. Why video ref? Why?

The usage of the video referee this season has been more prevalent and has been nothing short of a failure. Incorrect decisions, interminable delays and incongruent silence when assistance is actually needed have been hallmarks of the use of the TMO in 2014. Last night we saw, again, the use of the TMO in unnecessary, match delaying, situations and making wrong decisions. I am an ardent Reds fan but even through that lens the decision to disallow a Highlanders try for an alleged obstruction that occurred on the 50 metre line seemed like the wrong decision to me. No system is going to be perfect but one that does not delay the game and gets decisions write more often than not would be nice!

5. Will Genia: superstar!

It was Will Genia’s 100th game in a Reds cap last night and he provided the Reds faithful with probably his best performance in 2 years. I have been overt in my views about Genia’s form and probably watch him more closely than anyone else on the field at home games and I have to say last night’s effort was just a joy to watch. Take a bow sir!

6. Just kick a bl**dy field goal!!!!

Decision making has not been the strong suit of the Reds leadership of late and so, again, we saw what could best be described as garbled decision making almost cost the Reds the game. Can anyone cogently explain to me how a former test captain (Horwill) and current test vice captain (Genia) miss the obvious opportunity to attempt a field goal in the dying moments of the game. The play was set up under or around the posts for at least 10 phases before the final try was scored. Surely that made going for the field goal the better option? To me the win is more important than the glory and I would have had Harris and Lucas both in the pocket from about the 4th phase.

As I said in the preamble: this was an epic encounter. It was also a vital win for the Reds: not for their season but for their psyche. 2014 will still end as a season of much lament for Queensland players and fans but we will always have 30 May 2014.

Super Rugby: has the Lions Tour break killed the chances of the Brumbies and Reds?

It was the first and last round of Super Rugby for Australian teams this weekend and based on the performances I have seen from the two Australian teams in this round I have to say that I hold real fears that neither of them will get past the first week of the finals.

I watched the Reds take on the Waratahs live and have watched the reply of the Brumbies game against the Force this morning. Now I concede that neither team was at full strength but equally neither team looked anything like the cohesive and in form units that had taken the field in the week before the break in play enforced by the British and Irish Lions tour.

The fact is that before this weekend, and excluding Lions tour trial fixtures, the last time the Reds and Brumbies played in the Super Rugby competition was 42 days and 36 days ago respectively. Both teams had significant representation in the Wallabies squad for the Lions series and thus have been without their core of players for the bulk of that period and, indeed, remain without them.

I have no clue what training the teams did whilst the 5/6 weeks break between Super Rugby fixtures took place but it is impossible to countenance that all the teams did during this period was train. Further, no matter “game like” training is it can be no substitute for match play.

I, for one, can not think of a more disjointed preparation for a finals campaign than that which has been expected of the Reds and Brumbies. The difficulty with such a campaign imposed on those franchises is all the more galling given that the New Zealand and South African teams that are playing in the finals will have had three games together following their international breaks of three weeks to tune up for the finals.

Don’t get me wrong here: I understand how important the quadrennial tours of the Lions are to the coffers of SANZAR and the host nation. These tours are needed to boost the finances of the governing bodies dealing with declining fan numbers and participation. That said, the length of time that the Australian franchises have had to wait to return to Super Rugby play and, more particularly, the lack of time given for the teams participating in the finals to get time back together on the field is nothing short of an abomination and, in my opinion, totally inequitable.

Hopefully playing together this week will assist the Reds and Brumbies in the preparation for next week. Frankly though, if both teams put in a similarly disjointed and, suddenly, out of form performances as they did this week then there is a real prospect that we could be seeing a New Zealand and a South African semi-final in week two of the finals.

Super Rugby: Reds v Brumbies, Round 10 … What did we learn?

I write this as I make my way home from Lang Park after watching the two best franchises in Australian domestic rugby duke it out on the way to a 19-19 draw before 38,500 fans.

Here are the 5 keys points I think followers of the great game learned from tonight’s fixture:

1. Jake White is a bullshit artist: The coach of the Brumbies made the claim earlier in the week that the Reds were the “dirtiest” team in Super 15. Hyperbole or not, tonight’s display from the Brumbies, including two yellow cards, certainly rests that crown from the Reds, if indeed they actually ever held it! On this point: did the referee in the second half forget the laws regarding the penalty try? Surely one must have been in the offing after the second yellow card?

2. The Reds came to win but their positivity cost them: I love attacking rugby and I love teams prepared to go for the try instead of taking the 3 points on offer. I salute the Reds for pushing for the attacking option for the totality of this game but think they over did it at least twice maybe four times. I suspect the lesson the coach will be preaching next week might be “attack with a line out but if you get another penalty take the 3”.

3. TMO … Hero or villain? I have not seen a replay yet so can not argue about whether the TMO was right or wrong in his decisions but has there been a game in recent memory where the TMO has had a more important roll? 4 disallowed tries to the Reds certainly had a game changing feel about them and 2 at least looked marginal. I certainly hope he got them all right.

4. The Brumbies will win the competition because: they won the game with defence and made a negligible number of errors like a winning team does. Forget the professional fouls for the current discussion and focus on the defence: a Herculean effort!

5. Smith v Gill: I am calling this one am honourable draw. Both had moments of excellence and frankly both also had moments that they would wish they could have again. The race for Pocock’s replacement is no clearer after tonight.

It was a stunning exhibition of rugby and I head home now to rest my sore throat. I may have been shouting a bit at the end.

Bring on next week!