With four losses from their first 8 matches and sitting 10th in the table, the Queensland Reds appear unlikely to be challenging to retain their title come the season’s end. Largely this has not been down to a case of the famed “second-season-syndrome”, but more due to a remarkable injury list that has seen them struggle to create any consistency in their selections.
Perhaps no injury better sums up the Reds’ curse than Sam Lane’s. The 20 year old only made his debut for the side two rounds ago against the Brumbies, yet after lasting just four minutes on his second start against the Stormers last weekend, now faces knee reconstruction surgery following major ligament damage. Lane was the fourth fly-half in the Reds squad to pick an injury in the last six months, starting with Quade Cooper in the 3rd Place Playoff at the Rugby World Cup. Since the start of the season, Mike Harris, Ben Lucas and Jono Lance, who were set to fight it out in the battle to fill in as Cooper’s replacement, have each spent weeks on the sidelines. Everyone in Brisbane has the right to be superstitious.
Unfortunately, the injuries haven’t been just limited to half-backs. Ben Tapuai’s early exit against the Stormers last weekend turned out to be fractured collarbone, keeping him out for 10 weeks. That’s before considering the suspension of Digby Ioane – who returns for the next round after a four week suspension – and the absence of Anthony Faingaa, Saia Faingaa and Peter Hynes.
For anyone who was watched London Wasps this season, they will understand that persistent injuries cripple not only a side’s ability to perform on a weekly basis, but also their confidence. Will Genia was arguably the best player in Super Rugby last year, yet having failed to re-create the special intuition we saw so often between himself and Cooper, he has really struggled. The time on the ball that Genia’s couldn’t seem to have enough of in 2011 has disappeared.
With Ioane, Harris and Lucas fit again, the Reds will be replenished for Round 10 but face a difficult three matches. First, they travel to Auckland to take on the bottom-of-the-table Blues, then to Christchurch to tackle the Crusaders, before returning home for current leaders the Chiefs. With a 7 point gap currently separating the Reds from the final playoff spot (6th), the next three weeks are absolutely crucial to their season.