When Brad Thorn posted his team to play the unbeaten, table-topping Chiefs midweek there were plenty who saw it, with the eight changes, as a kind of surrender, a white flag offered in face of a white hot host and a nod to 10 years of fruitless visits across the ditch.
After Thorn’s courageous team blew away the Reds 10 year New Zealand hoodoo with a defensive display of undeniable spirit and tenacity – lasting 27 phases and two penalty advantages to ice the game in the 84th minute – Thorn was hailed for a selection masterstroke.
“The Queensland Reds have gone in there on a mission,” said former Wallaby Justin Harrison on Stan Sport.
“Brad Thorn has galvanized that team. He’s picked a different looking team and that’s energised the whole squad.
“They’ve surprised us all. There is no doubt we thought that this was almost an impossible task. Everyone except the Red players.
“This is a team now that’s galvanised around each other. It was a perfect storm to build a lot of animosity amongst the team – galvanise them together, bring them together when they’re under pressure. Tonight is an example of how a young team can come together.”
The obituaries of Thorn’s erratic reign in Reds land are already being prepared, but in his twilight days he produced what Morgan Turinui declared to be the second best result of his time in charge.
“Oh, a lot of people have been eulogising the Reds, myself included,” Turinui said. “What’s happening next year, who’s next coach going to be?
“This is in the top two most important wins in Brad Thorn’s tenure as a head coach. Congratulations to him. He won Super Rugby AU finals, this is right up there with that.
“This is huge – first time in 10 years, in New Zealand against the undefeated competition leaders. How good is that?”
The Reds last won the Super Rugby title in 2011 and Friday’s win put them sixth, ahead of the Waratahs who will go back ahead if they beat the Rebels on Saturday night. One win can’t wipe years of pain – but a first victory on Kiwi soil against a New Zealand team in 10 years must be celebrated. And not just by the Reds – all of Australian fans of Super Rugby will feel a frisson of hope. One hoodoo down – might that Bledisloe one be next?
“It’s been a hard fall for Reds fans,” said Turinui. “The Ewen McKenzie era was set up for longevity and they’ve just lost their way along the last few years. A win like that is something as a playing group they can grab onto.”
The players could barely believe it when referee Paul Williams blew the final whistle. Leaping and screaming like they’d won the whole darn thing.
“It’s unbelievable. We’ve had a pretty poor season so to come down here and and put on a show … I’m just just so proud of the boys,” said skipper Tate McDermott, who was immense. Eddie Jones will have been rejoicing at how tough the young scrum half was down the stretch.
“We said be brave but we were obviously massive underdogs, and coming off a poor result last week it means everything. It gives us new life.
“We’ve always just lacked the polish. It’s been a bloody Achilles heel for us. Tonight we put it away. The boys kicked really well and we defended like a pack of dogs. So yeah, man. I’m so proud.”
Thorn also used the word “proud”, but a more important one as well – if the Reds are to turn this from a one night stand into something more meaningful and long term
“Hopefully it means momentum,” Thorn offered. “We were very disappointed with the Waratahs game. I know they had players missing (Brad Weber and Sam Cane among them), we had players missing as well.”
He was asked what part of his experience had been helpful for his team, one that was missing key men.
“Probably just the experience of turning up for the fight,” Thorn said.
“Obviously you’ve got your game plan and you have to be clinical. We knew they’d be dangerous from minute one to the 80th minute.
“But it’s about loving the fight and something inside you when you’re in those sort of games.”
Fight was the theme picked up by Fraser McReight.
“Super super proud,” McReight said. “It’s something that we’ve been building for a few weeks now to see it finally come off when we probably needed it the most was really pleasing. To see all the boys as excited as they are – it means so much to the group.”
He was asked about the 10 years without a win. Had they discussed it in the week leading up? It seemed redundant, to be honest.
“I think everyone probably knows the situation that’s been happening for the past few years,”McReight said.
“We had nothing to lose. The Chiefs are undefeated so they had all the power and we didn’t really matter – people were going to write us off. It was just really good to see some Queensland fight.”