July 7, 2011
The Reds have come full circle since their 92-3 hammering at the hands of the Bulls in May 2007 © Getty Images
The Reds are on the brink of capping a rollercoaster season and extending a sporting success-laden year for Queensland with the Super Rugby title.
Victory for Ewen McKenzie's side against the Crusaders, on the back of wins for the Brisbane Roar, the Queensland Firebirds and the State of Origin-winning Maroons, would be another shot in the arm for a region that not so long ago was largely underwater and combating devastating floods.
The Reds go into Saturday's season finale having suffered early season woe before bouncing back to top the standings at the end of the regular season. That turnaround reflects their run from zeroes to heroes in the space of four years - a fact celebrated in the latest edition of Scrum Sevens.
Start of a new era?
Former Brumbies and Wallabies boss Eddie Jones was announced as the Reds' new head coach for the 2007 season and it was hoped his arrival would spark a new era of dominance. They had a fantastic crop of youngsters coming through the ranks including Wallaby-in-the-making Berrick Barnes alongside the likes of estalished names such as talismanic fullback Chris Latham.
Jones made a good start to his Reds career winning his first match of the 2007 season 25-16 against the previous season's losing finalists the Hurricanes. But that storming start to the campaign proved to be a false dawn.
The Reds went on to win just one other game in the 2007 season and ended up collecting the wooden spoon for all their troubles. The low point came against the soon-to-be champions the Bulls. The Pretoria-based franchise had to win their final regular season game by at least 72 points to secure a home semi-final - too much to ask surely? Many scoffed at the concept, but lo and behold, the Bulls smashed the Reds 92-3 in the Reds' darkest day.
Eddie Jones and the Reds announced they had mutually decided to part company soon after the season finished and the Queensland franchise were on the search once again for their saviour. Jones went onto be part of the Springboks management which won the Webb Ellis Trophy at the World Cup while the Reds turned to a rookie to spearhead their hoped-for revival.
Under new boss Phil Mooney the Reds experienced an upsurge in 2008 and despite finishing 12th out of 14, the story could have been different had a couple of points gone their way against the Crusaders, Blues, Chiefs and Waratahs. However, perhaps the biggest indication of their change in fortunes was their defeat of the side who massacred them the previous season. The Reds greeted the Bulls at the Suncorp Stadium hoping to restore some pride and did so thrashing the defending champions 40-8.
One key decision made that season would prove to pay dividends to the present day. Mooney removed No.8 John Roe as skipper and replaced him with half-back Sam Cordingley and following an injury to the scrum-half, Mooney opted for young second-row James Horwill as his new skipper. Horwill, despite missing the entirety of the 2010 campaign through injury, is still the Reds captain to this day and will lead the side into the final against the Crusaders.
A Farewell to Barnes
The Reds finished the 2009 season in 13th and were rocked two months later with the announcement that fans' darling Barnes would join rivals the Waratahs. The Wallaby inside-centre was held in high regard by the Reds' faithful and they had embraced him as their new star player following the departure of Latham to foreign shores. Barnes' switch of allegiance served to intensify a fierce rivalry, once described by Reds legend John Eales as like, "fighting with your brother in the backyard."
McKenzie to the rescue
Coach Mooney tried to stay bullish in the wake of Barnes' departure asserting that "no one player is bigger than the side." However, the Reds management decided the side needed a different direction and dismissed Mooney in September 2009 following just six wins in 26 matches. However, the blow of Barnes' departure was eased by the news that former 'Tahs coach Ewen McKenzie would join the franchise on a three-year deal as their new head coach. McKenzie, who had also served as an assistant coach with the Wallabies, had been unceremoniously dismissed from Top 14 giants Stade Francais just five games into the 2009-10 season.
McKenzie's first season proved to be a big success with the Reds just missing out on the play-offs with a fifth place finish. At the fulcrum of the side were Wallabies Quade Cooper and Will Genia and the season included two key wins against eventual finalists - the Bulls and the Stormers.
A pillaging avoided
With the announcement of the new Australian franchise, the Melbourne Rebels, Reds fans feared the worse. In 2006 they lost some key names to the newly formed Western Force franchise including lock Nathan Sharpe along with fly-half Brock James and hooker Tai McIsaac. The Rebels were on the hunt for some marquee players and recruited troublesome England fly-half Danny Cipriani and Wallaby legend Stirling Mortlock but their only spoils from the Reds were prop Laurie Weeks, back-rower Adam Byrnes and Richard Kingi. McKenzie had persuaded his stars to stay with the promise that they were on the brink of something special - and he would be proved right the following season.
Champions in waiting?
Saturday's final apart, the 2011 season was near perfect for the Reds. However, in hindsight, one of their most important results of the season was a fairly conclusive loss to rivals the Waratahs in their second game. The match proved to be a wake-up call for McKenzie's side as they only lost another two other games that season. They completed a hat trick of wins against the South African sides, the Lions, the Cheetahs and the Stormers and beat their fellow finalists the Crusaders in dramatic fashion 17-16.
They managed to survive injury blows throughout the season and the semi-final against the Blues demonstrated some of the best attacking rugby Super Rugby has seen in recent years. Cooper was the architect at 10 with winger Rod Davies crossing the line for the Reds first ever Super Rugby hat-trick. All that's left is for them to defeat their Kiwi rivals on Saturday to complete a remarkable turnaround. However, messrs Richie McCaw, Dan Carter and Sonny Bill Williams will have other ideas…
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