Crusaders vs Reds: Five things we learned

Super Rugby
by Emma Greenwood

Kicking is a problem, the Reds' competitive zeal is impressive and Harry Wilson is the real deal.

Here's five things we're talking about after the Reds' narrow loss to the Crusaders in Christchurch.

1. Kicking, kicking and kicking

Kicking has been something of a concern for the Reds for some time but their issues hit crisis point in Christchurch when three kickers failed to convert a single one of their four tries, with the eight points they left on the field coming back to haunt them.

No kicker converts every chance but the Crusaders match will leave Brad Thorn will plenty of food for thought going forward.

Shuffling Bryce Hegarty out of the starting side has hurt the kicking percentages, although he too missed a chance on Friday night that was far from impossible. Jock Campbell has become the first-choice kicker since taking over at fullback but has a poor conversion rate from out wide.

Great sides have kickers that convert at about 80 percent and the Reds need to find the ability to take points on offer if they are to convert their near misses into wins.

The Reds kicking in general play was little better and while a swirling wind and constant pressure from the Crusaders defence was a factor, it needs to be better.

A lack of distance and accuracy on touch finders, multiple charge downs and a general lack of purpose behind the kick is increasing pressure on a team that needs to be able to rely on its playmakers to have the ball on a string.

2. Reds' competitive drive is impressive

The release of the Reds team earlier this week left many wondering how Queensland could hope to compete with the Super Rugby champions given the players missing with injury and rested due to workload concerns.

Without wallabies James O'Connor (ankle) and Izack Rodda (workload) and with rising star Tate McDermott (workload) named on the bench, the Reds almost seemed as though they were sending up the white flag heading over to Christchurch.

Coaches Brad Thorn and Peter Ryan were bullish ahead of kick-off though and Queensland's first-half effort suggested they would make a strong effort.

But few would have thought they would still be in the hunt in the dying minutes of the match and their ability to hang in will eventually help them turn close misses into gritty wins.

The young Queensland team will learn plenty from a man as competitive as Thorn and will not be content with their result in Christchurch.

Teams need to take their opportunities in Super Rugby though and the young Reds will learn three points from a penalty is sometimes as valuable as the promise of a spectacular try.

3. Harry Wilson is the real deal

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Plenty of talk accompanied the arrival of young gun Harry Wilson into the Super Rugby ranks this season, with many rating the Junior Wallabies backrower a special talent.

The Reds have done their best to keep a lid on his meteoric rise, with Thorn wanting the young man to stay humble as talk circles of inclusion in Dave Rennie's Wallabies squad.

But his breakout season got even better against the Crusaders, where he showed he can mix it with the best - even if he should have looked to pass the ball to an unmarked Lukhan Salakaia-loto close to the tryline when hunting for his own double.

Wilson ran for 75m and had two clean breaks as well as four offloads and scored a try.

But it was his 25 carries and 10 tackles that were most impressive. The Reds have a talented a deep backrow that includes Angus Scott-Young, capped Wallaby Liam Wright and Junior Wallabies captain Fraser McReight, as well as the versatile Salakaia-Loto, who can switch between lock and back row.

Wilson is a rising star but needs to maintain that workrate, intensity and humility if he is to continue his rise.

4. There's still time for the Reds

The loss to the Crusaders left the Reds with a 1-5 record from the first six weeks, a return that would usually have already put paid to their hopes of returning to the finals.

But with three bonus points - from close losses to the Brumbies, Lions and Crusaders - as well as a bonus-point win over the Sunwolves, Queensland maintain a slim hope of making the post-season, especially if they conquer their conference rivals in a string of games starting later this month.

While they would prefer a win to a lesson, the Reds need to take stock from the Crusaders clash, where their rivals had fewer carries, beat fewer defenders, made fewer breaks and offloads, missed more tackles, handled a heavier defensive workload and won fewer turnovers - but still won the match.

In short, the Crusaders know how to win. When challenged, they came up with big plays at crunch moments to get over the line.

It's something the Reds must learn if they are to become a force this year.

5. The lineout still an issue

The Reds entered the season with two hookers looking to push each other to great heights as they competed for a gold jersey in the representative season.

Brandon Paenga-Amosa and Alex Mafi formed a potent one-two punch for the Reds last year but an ankle injury in the opening game of the season in Canberra that sidelined Paenga-Amosa for up to eight weeks is coming back to haunt the Reds.

Usually a reliable thrower into the lineout, Mafi has had the yips over the past fortnight, while the return of Harry Hockings to the starting side last week, and absence of Izack Rodda in Christchurch, left new combinations struggling to gel.

The set piece can be a real strength for the Reds and they need to sort out their problems to be able to generate quick, clean ball to spark their attack.