Queensland coach Phil Mooney has been told not to worry about reputations or salaries and to make whatever changes he thinks are necessary to arrest the Reds’ slide to the bottom of the Super 14 ladder.
Mooney, in his first season as Reds coach, has been saddled with a squad not of his own choosing, inheriting the roster largely selected by Eddie Jones before his departure for Saracens, via South Africa’s World Cup campaign.
That’s a frustration many a football coach has experienced, but with the Reds’ season deteriorating fast, Queensland Rugby Union officials have been quick to reassure him he doesn’t need to feel obligated to select players just because the organisation paid a lot of money for them.
Wayne Smith of The Australian reports that it’s a welcome measure of support for a novice coach, although Mooney demonstrated after the embarrassing 43-11 loss to the Brumbies that he wasn’t afraid to make changes. The question now, after his side’s final-quarter capitulation to the Stormers on the weekend, is whether sending another tumbrel load to the guillotine before Saturday’s home match against the Bulls is going to encourage the remainder of the team or merely disrupt it.
It may be that a hamstring strain spares former Australia vice-captain Morgan Turinui the humiliation of being dropped after another performance that belonged more in an episode of Lost than in a Super 14 match.
The switch back to inside centre did little to disguise his discomfort in defence and it was evident from Mooney’s post-match comments that he felt the shortcomings in midfield had placed an unnecessary load on five-eighth Berrick Barnes.
“It’s fair to say Barnes is doing more tackling than he needs to be,” Mooney said.
“If other people matched his workrate in defence, we’d be conceding less tries.”
Generally, it wasn’t lack of effort that brought the Reds undone but a lack of skill and discipline. Having taken the lead when a 55th-minute Leroy Houston try pushed the score to 16-13, the Queenslanders promptly forgot the first law of defence and abandoned their straight line in favour of individually rushing the Stormers’ ball-carriers.
It was then like a scene out of a B-grade kung fu movie as the Stormers picked off their obliging assailants one by one, all the way to a 57th-minute try that restored a lead they never surrendered.
It was such a fundamental breach of defensive principles that it prompted calls for the Reds to send an SOS to former Wallabies defence coach John Muggleton, who indicated he would be happy to help if Mooney felt he was needed. But it is difficult to say what Muggleton could advise the Reds that the players don’t already know.
“It’s a trust thing,” second-rower James Horwill said.
“You’ve got to trust that the guy inside you will make his tackle and that the guy outside you will make his as well and then stick to your man. There’s nothing any coach can say.”
It’s not just in defence that the Reds are losing their shape. They have too many Keystone Cops moments in attack, when two-thirds of the side will swarm to the breakdown, leaving the backline ridiculously undermanned to carry on the raid.
On one such unstructured moment, Barnes had no option but to drop back into the pocket to kick his second drop goal, although the shame was that he did not stand a little deeper more often to give the Reds more room in which to attack. As it was, his flat, wide alignment made it easy for the Stormers to herd their ponderous opponents over the touchlines.
For the third successive week, the Reds’ backrow of Houston, John Roe and David Croft was completely outplayed, with Stormers flanker Luke Watson turning in a man-of-the-match performance that elevated talk of him captaining South Africa this season way above fanciful.
With Hugh McMeniman still a month away from recovering from his broken ankle, it is difficult to see what personnel changes could be made there that would improve on what the Reds already have. And sadly for Mooney, that is a problem that extends across the team.
At least the Reds can take one crumb of comfort into their meeting with the Bulls, the side that humiliated them 92-3 in Pretoria last year. With newcomer Dayna Edwards at tighthead, Queensland at last has a competitive scrum.Tweet