Coach Brad Thorn ‘proud’ despite Reds' heartbreaking losses
HARD-marking coach Brad Thorn has allowed himself the rare detour into imagining what this Super Rugby season would have looked like if the Queensland Reds had grabbed three games there for the taking.
Not converting the late leads in the losses to the Highlanders (36-31) and NSW Waratahs (40-32) was tough to swallow, but the 19-13 heartbreaker on full-time against the Chiefs on Friday night was a season-ender.
The latest loss in Hamilton has left the Reds treading water with a 5-8 record on 24 points with just the Sunwolves behind them on the crowded 15-team competition ladder.
Win one or even two of those tight losses, with an extra sprinkle of bonus points, and the Reds would be mid-table and still be up to their ears in the finals hunt.
"What could have been" is not normally a Thorn lament, but he did pause to think before regrouping for next Saturday night against the Jaguares at Suncorp Stadium.
"The oldest guy in that starting forward pack was 23, with Taniela (Tupou) turning 23 two weeks ago, and we have a 20-year-old halfback (Tate McDermott)," Thorn said.
"They were out there competing hard in what was a real slug fest at the end and just didn't get over the tryline.
"I'm very proud of the boys. We'll continue to learn and get better, which we have talked about since last year, and I think they are.
"Our time will come where they win those games."
No one should have a problem with the Reds playing to the direct strengths of their forwards, nor the pick-and-drive fest it became in the second half as they crept, one metre at a time, towards their first victory in New Zealand since 2013.
Everyone should have a problem with the team having so little craft that not once was winger Sefa Naivalu brought in on an aggressive, angled midfield run off a playmaker when the team was hammering away 10m out.
Brumbies centre Tevita Kuridrani did just that and scored against the Bulls the same night.
Hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa was held up over the congested tryline on full-time. It was that close.
"I actually thought (prop) Feao (Fotuaika) had scored but when the ball popped out I could see a (Chiefs) body on the floor and my only option was to try to go over him to ground the ball," Paenga-Amosa said.
Added Tupou: "Man, there was so much effort there and it was so close because we really just wanted to keep that chance alive to be in finals."
It's the folly of long-suffering fans and even coaches to believe that winning close games is only an arm's length away when it is most often much further.
Nailing the final 10 minutes of games is the hardest part.
Sure, the Reds were down five of their best backs, but the disappointment about the near-miss was still strong when the tired players flew home early after a 2.30am call to get on the team bus in Hamilton to go to Auckland Airport.