Reds: Title is ours to lose

2012-02-11 13:02
Ewen McKenzie (Gallo)
Sydney - Ewen McKenzie has been on a fitness drive, lost the bulk around his girth, and looks taut, trim and terrific. But that doesn't mean the successful Reds coach has suddenly become feeble.

No, he is again pushing straight off the front foot, arguing his team won't be going into their shell and want to be proud, loud winners.

McKenzie could easily head in another direction, as he has justifiable reasons to be cautious.

A strong factor in the Reds winning last year's Super Rugby title was the extravagance of their No 10 Quade Cooper. Opposition teams became obsessed with nullifying Cooper, often didn't, and the Reds reaped the benefit of an extraordinary talent who transformed the tournament.

But Cooper is injured and won't be around for most of the season. Also, the pressure on the Reds to continue being the glowing beacon of Australian rugby is there - especially as their fan base, invigorated by the team's willingness to take risks and eagerness to entertain, extends well below the Tweed.

The Reds have even succeeded in enchanting parts of NSW Rugby's heartland, not surprising considering the Waratahs antagonised their fans last year with kick-oriented tactics in some matches.

It will be difficult for the Reds to defend their title, because numerous opponents believe they now know how to counter them, and without Cooper something is missing. But McKenzie believes the Reds will continue to adapt, and want to remain trendsetters.

During the week, McKenzie attended the Super Rugby launch in Sydney where he pushed the Reds cause. It was all positive. It revolved around sides having to beat a team who have been there, done that, and enjoy being a bit mysterious about what they will do on game day.

''We are out to win the title … not to defend it. That's our mindset this year. We don't want to be the underdogs, but one expecting to win,'' McKenzie said.

''For a young team, last year was a great achievement. If you look at the week-to-week scorelines, we didn't sink teams, but did enough to accrue points which got us to the final. But we did show character, and it is pleasing that those who ran out in the final are still with us.

''The question now is how we front up the following season.''

Much will depend on who replaces Cooper at No 10, likely to be New Zealander Mike Harris, who, when not injured last year, showed he was a top-rate midfielder. Waratahs coach Michael Foley this week described Harris as a great acquisition for the Reds. McKenzie is adamant the Reds will survive until Cooper returns.

''When you read the papers last year, all the other teams were saying that when they played the Reds they had to shut down Will Genia and Quade Cooper. Quade is not there. So now they have to work out who to shut down,'' McKenzie said.

Reds and Wallabies captain James Horwill says replacing Cooper is hard, but not impossible.

''Obviously Quade is a very special player with a unique set of skills,'' Horwill said on Friday.

''But the guys we have got bring their own styles, and we want them to show us that. Quade won't be there but we feel we have the ability, strength and depth in the squad to do what we need to do. Hopefully the person who gets the job for the first game shines, and they make that No 10 jersey their own.''

Nor is Horwill concerned the Reds will be under pressure to be trendsetters, especially after the Australian Rugby Union boss, John O'Neill, called for the Waratahs, Brumbies, Force and Rebels to emulate them and be entertaining to improve home crowds.

''There is an added expectation from our supporter base and the general public,'' Horwill said. ''But you would much rather be in that position than people expecting you not to win. We welcome it, and it just adds to the challenges we have to confront.''

''Our main purpose continues to be winning the game. But we also want to keep adapting our game. The laws and the refereeing interpretations can dictate what you can do. We will get a mandate soon from the referees on what they are looking at this season. After this first trial, we should get an idea on what the referees are focusing on.

''The opposition also comes into play. Sometimes the more expansive game can benefit you, and sometimes hurt you. We feel one of our strengths is the ability to adapt week to week, and play different styles so teams don't know what they are coming up against.''

That's why the Reds remain the Australian team to beat.


What To Read Next


Read News24’s Comments Policy publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.
Live Video Streaming
Video Highlights
Sport Talk

Love 2 Meet
Sport24 on Twitter

Follow Sport24 news on Twitter


With the Absa Premiership in full swing, who will be crowned champions when all is said and done? Will Mamelodi Sundowns defend their title? Or can Kaizer Chiefs, Orlando Pirates or Bidvest Wits mount a serious challenge? Stay glued to Sport24 to find out!

Latest blogs

Did Stormers and Springboks lock Pieter-Steph du Toit deserve to be named SA Rugby Player of the Year?

Twitter Follow Sport24 on Twitter

Facebook "Like" Sport24's Facebook page

WIN Enter and win with Sport24!

BlackBerry Stay in the loop on your BlackBerry

RSS Feeds Sport news delivered really simply.

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.