The Reds beat the super team of Super rugby last night by 21 points and secured a four try bonus point in the process. Neither event has happen that often for the Reds and the crowd on hand also looked genuinely excited and animated, that is an even rarer event.
Season’s past the subdued crowd have been prompted to cheer (or even wake up) via the PA system but last night’s spontaneous applause and adulation as the Reds left the field at half time suggested that the faithful are starting to believe. It seemed worlds away from the boo’s and tumbleweeds that prevailed as the players went for oranges over the last 3 years.
You’d think looking at the scoreline that the win was based around a superb attacking performance, but you’d be wrong. The Reds best attacking weapon was their defence. They applied pressure to the Saders who were unable to cope and committed an astonishing 17 handling errors.
In fact three of the Reds tries came directly from Crusaders mistakes as the Reds capitalised and took full toll. It was a Crusader-esqe performance which certainly pleased Ewen McKenzie although it was hard to tell as he held the same expression on his face as he did after the heartbreak of last week.
“The pleasing part for me was we played a physical brand of rugby last week and fronted up again this week. The Crusaders choked us at the breakdown and made it difficult, but we still found ways to play.
“I said (to the team) we had to go through them and that first try was a good example of going through them then finishing it off with the speed on the outside.
“The enjoyable part was we scored three tries off their errors from our good defence and putting pressure on them and that’s been pretty much their brand of rugby”
Crusders captain Keiran Reid praised the Reds and spoke about how his team suspected the Reds would play, but were powerless to stop them.
“When we had our hand on the ball we coughed it up too easy. They counter attack really well and that’s probably their strength. We’d spoken about it but we just couldn’t contain them and they attacked really well off our dropped balls.”
While the rest of Australian rugby is focusing on super-star individuals like Barnes, Gits, JO’C or Rocky Elsom, the Reds are going about their business and playing competitive rugby based on an ensemble performance, rather than all-eggs-in-one-basket of the individual.
For the second week running it has been hard to find a Reds player that did not play well. Against the Tahs it was the established players that were the stand-outs but last night it was the lesser lights like Anthony Faingaa and Rodney Davies who had outstanding games.
It is hard to announce the arrival of the Reds after two performances but what must be acknowledged is the change in the team’s mindset.
The Reds looked shaky just after Diggers had gone over for his try in the 58 minute mark as the demons of season past looked to be visiting the Reds again. Kev went off with a season ending knee injury, they failed to secure ball from the kick-off and Adam Byrnes made his all too often trip to the sin-bin.
The Saders went over under the sticks and the capitulation bell began to toll.
What happened next was unthinkable, the Reds snaffled another turnover and Morgs feed Rocket Rod who scooted away to restore the balance. The monkey was off the back.
Hero of the night and budding property baron, Quade Cooper, explained how the Reds dealt with the adversity.
“It was all said at half time, we had a plan in place to play the full 80 and at half time when we ran out the focus was to push on and not drop off with five, ten or twenty minutes to go and everyone stepped up right across the pitch from one to fifteen.”
What is without question is the influence Link has had on this side. When he took over his first goal was to fix the leaky Reds defence and it looks as though this has been achieved.
Secondly are the tactical calls that he has made with Hynes at fullback looking like an inspired selection and the decision to play Davies ahead of Luke Morahan also paying dividends.
Last week the Reds controlled the tempo of the game much to the chagrin of the Tahs by slowing the game and not letting the them gain any momentum. This week the Reds stepped up the pace and never let the Crusaders settle.
It speaks volumes of the new found professionalism of the Reds and suggests they have turned a corner. Link pointed out the differences and the gains that had been made but also hosed down any thoughts of hubris.
“People probably rightly questioned our capacity to learn and be better and I’ve been saying all along our focus has been a cultural one and the players have embraced that, not only with the playing strategy but the ethos behind it. They knuckled down and that was the pleasing part for me.
“We are focusing on the little things and trying to develop winning habits and actually win. We didn’t do it well enough last week, we did it better this week and won, now we’ve got to try and do it again and win two games.
“We’ve changed a lot of things and we’ve kept things as well. We had to find a style of play that suited the individuals we’ve got with a forward pack on the improve and a bunch of exciting backs.
“We had to find way to be organised in that space, not prescriptive and not too loose. I think we’ve pitched it pretty well. The players are playing like they enjoy the style of rugby and that’s important and their getting stuck in physically so hopefully that continues.”
So it’s back to Ballymore next week to face Auckland and prima-facie evidence points to the fact it may be back to the glory days for the Reds as well.
Put his hand up: Will Genia – Consolidating his place as the no. 1 Wallaby halfback
Did himself no favours: Peter Hynes – Didn’t have a bad game but seemed to mix good with bad in equal measure
Bolter watch: Anthony Faingaa – Was the Reds best. Brutal in defence and opened up the Saders on more than one occasion with his direct ball running.