How will the Reds fill their Red Zone deficit?

How far has the Queensland Reds fallen? This is the biggest single problem in Australian provincial rugby at the moment. The Golden Boys of the Gold Coast sat pretty well after the domestic part of Super Rugby Pacific 2022 was over.

They have picked up seven wins from their first eight games, marking the surprise sign of a resounding 21-7 victory over their bitter local rivals Brumbis in 2.nd April at Suncorp. The sun was shining, the wind was in their sails, and the course seemed fair to the finalists.

In just a few months, the hands of the clock tickle, and a very different picture emerges. Queensland have lost five of their last six matches and are seventh in the table behind both Brumbis and Warta. In the face of flying black flags on the horizon, the redheads suddenly became calm and calm.

They have achieved an unwanted difference. With both Force and Rebels winning in the final round, Queensland became the only Australian franchise to fail to win a game against one of New Zealand’s five main regions in the regular SRP season.

The Reds still lost most of the cards in the first three rounds of the cross-border competition, and that’s where they lost the plot. They have played all of Australia’s matches (the first at AAMI Stadium in Melbourne, the next two at Suncorp), the least threatening of the Kiwi franchises – the Hurricanes, the Chiefs and the Highlanders.

The lazy-boy’s kneeling response from the armchair was ‘See how much the red ones have hit!’ Does it stand under scrutiny? In the first two games, Queensland were able to field two early XVs near full-strength: Harry Huppert, Richie Asiata and Tanila Tupau in the front row, followed by Ryan Smith and Angus Blyth and Angus Scott-Young, Fraser McRight. And Harry Wilson in the back row; Tate McDermott at No. 9, Hunter Paisami and Hamish Stewart at the center and Jock Campbell, Sully Bhunivalu, Josh Fluck and Filippo Daugunu at No. 3 in the back. That list looks pretty good to casual observers.

The only notable absent is James O’Connor at No. 10, with inexperienced Lawson Creighton choosing to take his place. Even after Tongan Thor lost the game against the Chiefs, the Reds can still build a respectable unit to play against the Highlanders, the lowest ranked of all Kiwi teams. That Landers team was missing its own key players like Shannon Frizel and Jonah Nareki.

Injury is the easy way out, and there is considerable doubt that a straight shooter like the Reds head coach Brad Thorne would buy it as an excuse:

“I think we were in five games and I was interviewed and I was not happy with the Australia AU competition. Like I said, we were playing warta, 19 turnovers, yet we won. We have won five in a row.

“But we are looking for quality rugby, and New Zealand teams are showing that if you flip the ball, there is something wrong with your D, try the boom – another try. This is why I was unhappy in five games in the AU season, because I know the reality. I played it, I know what it is, and that’s why I said we have to play Kiwis.

“If you look at it a few years ago, we saw Harley’s margins were below 10 points. It’s important that we play them, you want to play the best. ”

Just over a year ago, after the end of the regular Super Rugby Trans-Tasman season, the main Honcho of Queensland had prophetic words.

Meanwhile, Thorne has repaired some damage. The average 19-point gap against New Zealand teams in Trans-Tasman 2021 has dropped to just 12 points a year later, with only one blow-out against the Blues; In 2021, every game has been tried from six to four and a half in 2022. That’s still a lot, but it’s an improvement.

Dig deeper into the raw data and you will see that another pattern has taken shape. As I suggested in last week’s Coach’s Corner, the two most successful Australian teams in 2022 against the Kiwi opponents, Brumbis and Waratah, will play the game differently.

Take a look at how they scored: over 60% from the lineout and less than 20% from the counter-attack. The Reds are close to a typical New Zealand team like the Blues, who make their scores equally from both sources – exactly 43% from each platform for the Blues, 41% each for the Reds.

The big problem for Queensland is the weakness of their lineout, with Fijian Drua and Moana Pacifica just below the table with a low retention rate of 79%. Compare Aussies (more than 88% rebels) and New Zealanders (91% Highlanders), and Brumbis and Waratah, both of whom weigh 87%. You can feel the difference.

Half of all attempts scored in Super Rugby Pacific 2022 start with a lineout. If you do not have a reliable set-piece, you cannot expect to occupy enough time to calculate those important positions around the opponent’s 22 (so-called red zone).

The Reds ‘interim captain, Tate McDermott, who paid a high price for his honest and often post-match interviews, indirectly referred to the Crusaders’ failure after the weekend’s defeat:

“We are really proud of how we got back into it and we will take it forward. Too many teams don’t get the Crusaders two cracks in a row and we’ll take the positive aspects of that game because we have.

“It was as easy as holding the ball, when we as a team stuck to better things and worked hard and put the stages together, it was great to see us. But it’s about doing it for a long time.”

If Brad Thorne’s Queensland allegation is to get a chance to upset the same opponent on Friday evening, he will have to send his rescue team straight to the lineout and to the set-piece in the red zone.

In 13 the first Queensland Red Zone lineout began to rotM Minutes, at the end of the Crusaders 22:

The Reds had already won the ball from this set-up by throwing a clear target (Seru Uru) and its lifters were locked to the front. In this case, Queensland skipper Ryan Smith opted for a simple second game on the rotation, the thigh being dropped as a hoax and the ball hit the player Angus Scott-Young behind him.

Scott Barrett does not leave himself to fend for himself with the thighs but ‘mirrors’ the Queensland movement, taking turns to encourage Cullen Grace. This is an immediate problem for the Reds, as Scott-Young lacks the natural spring for his opponents:

Angus Scott-Young’s lack of speed caused the next Red error a few minutes later.

In this instance, the Reds were protected by the Crusaders’ knock-forward, only to return the ball immediately from the next scrum:

Harry Wilson tries to offload Scott-Young at a low percentage in the second half, the ball loosens and the Crusaders pick it up. Opponents have no chance to spend time in the 22nd and create pressure on the home defense, the kind of pressure that leads to points, penalties and yellow cards for continuous violations.

Smart gadgets in Queensland lineouts respond to competition by looking for drama or by quickly tapping fines to avoid Orthodox lineouts altogether:

In the first instance, Ryan Smith, Harry Wilson and Richie Asiata call for a quick exchange on the front of the line, but Wilson’s pass is too clumsy and it’s another turnover scrum. In the second example, Tate McDermott avoids the lineout just five meters from the goal line, but his two supports (Bhunivalu and Campbell) are very slow and Lester Finganauku is able to wrestle the ball away.

When Queensland went behind the line, they were no longer successful:

The last two clips are particularly instructive. Queensland recovered the ball from Asiata’s unintentional overthrow, but the damage was already done. Throty will come down as ‘win’ in the statistics book, but it is actually a loss because all the offensive structures are lost.

Harry Wilson returns to the second round, and the Reds are still struggling to cross 22 three-pointers, when Dan Xander snatches the ball into the tackle and the Crusaders break to their left.

Even towards the end of the match when the Reds finally scored an attempt from a short-range lineout, it came from a broken set-piece that was rescued from the Maroon back-row by a great hand on the short-side:

Again, there is no pressure on the structure applied over time, but rather from the innate skill executed beautifully by Connor West and Fraser McRight.

The Reds found their ladder in the Red Zone paradise near the hour mark, holding the ball from the deep lineout of the Crusaders 22 for two minutes and 15 steps – clockwise, de-tired and racked up the entire seven pointers:


Don’t believe the people who tell you that the Reds’ problems against New Zealand’s opponents are all the result of a bad run of injury. It’s really only James O’Connor and Tanila Tupu who are missing from action for any length, and the best teams know how to close the ranks and lock the shields despite the absence of key players.

Queensland also enjoyed the bonus of playing all of Australia’s games and the first three weak Kiwi teams in two Suncorp. There is no excuse, but the good news is that in Christchurch, lots can be fixed in time for the return fixtures at the knockout stages of the tournament.

One of the best ways to combine defense with the opportunity to score points is to occupy space and time in and around the opponent’s red zone. Once you enter the opposition 22, do not leave until you come out with a concrete advantage.

Like the Brumbies and Waratahs, the Reds tourniquet needs to be able to tighten and gradually apply pressure from those situations. They need to make sure they can win nine out of every 10 throws they reach the lineout, hold the ball and stay in position until D starts to shout.

It could come through points, it could come through penalties and yellow cards, but there would be a snowball effect. Do it, and still unimaginable things can happen – an Australian upset win at Kiwi Rugby Castle and release in red.

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