When the match was in the balance, the Queensland forwards, in particular, were outmuscled by their opponents in all aspects of the collision zone which appears to become a worrying trend for Brad Thorn’s side.
Considering that only several weeks ago, on the last leg of their three-week road trip in Buenos Aries, the Reds had the Jaguares in all sorts of problems early on in the match, at one stage leading 14-0.
To their credit, the locals went back to basics and simply lifted the intensity at the collision and challenged Queensland with potent driving mauls off the lineout leading to three tries by their hooker Julian Montoya and a subsequent 43-27 victory.
Queensland supporters could find some latitude for grace towards their Reds for that defeat considering how well they had played to lose in the opening rounds against the Brumbies and the Lions. Perhaps the air miles were as much as a reason for defeat as any.
But this defeat to the Sharks, at home, is perhaps evidence the Queensland Reds don’t have the mettle or fortitude to be serious contenders in 2020 as many would have hoped for.
Before Saturday evening the Queensland Reds set-piece was considered one of the better set pieces in the competition. Such aspects of the game are the ‘bread-and-butter’ of Brad Thorn’s coaching diet, yet it was the failure of the Queensland lineout, and in the latter stages of the match, the Queensland scrum that became part of the issue.
For Queensland to be successful they require solid, front foot ball from such set-piece as they no longer have Samu Kerevi to barge them towards the gain line if the set-piece falters as it did on Saturday evening.
Yet the Sharks nullified the set-piece and also flooded the collision recycle zone slowing down the play and doubled up on the Reds with exceptional defence line speed. Subsequently, the Reds lost their attacking shape and never really found an attacking rhythm in the game.
Quite simply the Reds needed to be better at the set-piece and more assertive at the collision recycle if they had any chance of wresting momentum back from their opponents when the game was in the balance.
Yet that never occurred as they either did not commit the right amount of numbers to the collision to counter the Sharks or simply did not have the mental toughness to want to win the contest in tight when it was getting ‘nasty’.
The issue became more apparent when formidable loosehead prop JP Smith left the field at the 53-minute mark and was replaced by the promising Harry Hoopert.
In the next several scrums Hoopert was simply man-handled by Springbok Thomas Du Toit and Queensland never really recovered. To his credit, Harry Hoopert persisted but mentally he was ‘gone’, evidenced by his paper-thin defence on the short side that essentially opened the door for a runaway Sharks try later in the second half.
Yet Hoopert was not the only Queensland forward who offered little impact from the bench.
Wallaby Lukhan Salakia-Loto may have brought some energy to the contest but I would suggest little impact to the collision zone. His body height into contact is simply too high and for a man of his power and proportion he could do so much more for his side, but running tall into the Sharks is a pointless exercise.
The task does not get any easier for the Reds who next travel over the ditch to take on the Crusaders who it would appear would be relishing the opportunity to take on a mentally ravaged and mentally frail Queensland side.
This next match will be a telling moment in the evolution of Brad Thorn as a head coach as his side is failing in areas where he personally triumphed in as a player. How can he abate the mental wilting of his side when the match is in the balance as this is becoming a key issue for his team and an issue he personally would be foreign to.
His side is in much need of a win and the confidence such a victory brings. Yet looking for such against the most successful side in the history of Super Rugby in their own backyard is a daunting prospect, but it is exactly the challenge a person like Brad Thorn would want, but does his team?
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