Future looking good for Reds
Falling one position short of a place in the finals may sound like an unenviable position for any team but there can be little doubt that fifth on the Super14 ladder is an incredible finish for the unfancied Reds.
After finishing second last in 2009, the Reds were expected to limp through another lacklustre campaign this time around, but under the leadership of Ewen McKenzie the Reds flipped the script, developing steel and consistency to compliment their natural flair.
With their sensational 38-36 victory over the Highlanders at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night, the Reds registered their eighth win of the season and secured their best finish since 2002.
While a jump from 13th to fifth is an impressive statistic in itself, of greater note has been the Reds’ ability to match it with the very best, beating three of the top four sides and losing by just two points to the other.
McKenzie, though, knows how well his side’s done, but as a coach of an injury-ravaged side, missing no less than nine front-line players by season’s end, he can’t help but wonder what might have been.
"I stood there on the sideline at the end and I looked around at the guys standing there in suits and there were some pretty handy players not out there on the paddock," McKenzie said.
"We’re not really a team full of experience and we couldn’t afford to have that many players out."
"We’ve become good at adapting, but it’s certainly frustrating having that much talent unavailable," he said.
Although in some ways he was content with his side’s turnaround, McKenzie’s eyes have already turned to the 2011 season and ensuring the Reds’ significant gains will provide the foundation for future success.
"You have to crawl before you walk. It’s like climbing Mount Everest, you have to go up and down a few times and build stages – that’s where we’re at," McKenzie said.
"We’ve done a really good job in getting a fair way up the mountain, but we’ve got a little bit of work to do. The reality is if we don’t work hard in the offseason it’s very easy to tumble down the hill and end up where we were."
Twelve rounds of rugby later, the Reds have certainly been exposed and made mistakes, but in terms of growth and experience, 2010 has been a watershed season and the future looks bright for McKenzie’s men.