Reds in danger of losing cohesion

* Wayne Smith
* April 17, 2007

EDDIE JONES will continue as Reds coach, despite his numbers plummeting to rock bottom, but even he concedes Queensland may be struggling to hold together the nucleus of its young, battered side.
Jones has coached the Reds to just one win from 10 Super 14 matches this season, this on the coat-tails of eight defeats in his last nine Tests with the Wallabies, the sorry statistic that led to his sacking as Australian coach at the end of 2005.

Admittedly, in between he helped rescue Saracens from relegation in the English premiership, but a 2-19 win-loss return with the Wallabies and Reds should have seen the axe fall at Ballymore, especially after Queensland's brain-dead 26-13 loss to the old enemy NSW in Sydney on Saturday.

However, Queensland Rugby Union chairman Peter Lewis yesterday swung his weight behind his embattled coach, insisting that chaos would result if Jones were sacked by the Reds.

"We need stability," said Lewis, well aware that the Reds, after having played for nearly four decades under just two coaches - the late Bob Templeton and John Connolly - have had had four different coaches over the past seven seasons.

"The players were delighted when he recommitted to us a fortnight ago."

Yet that was before Queensland was humiliated by the Sharks and then beaten by a NSW outfit that was almost as bereft of ideas as the Reds but at least had the nous to take advantage twice of poorly defended blind sides.

The question now is whether the Reds' abysmal season will undermine Jones' efforts to retain half a dozen young players on whom the future of the club hangs, among them Stephen Moore (who has re-signed with the ARU but not with Queensland), Hugh McMeniman, Greg Holmes and Mitchell Chapman.

"We're reasonably confident of keeping them but there may be one or two who might slip through our fingers," Jones conceded yesterday.

That's where timing will be critical. If the "one or two" players leaving for other Australian clubs announce their intentions early, it could have the same effect of removing key bricks from a wall. The whole Reds' structure could come tumbling down.

The test of the early-season rhetoric of the Super 14 coaches that they were fully behind Australia's World Cup campaign is at hand.

ARU rugby manager Pat Wilson confirmed last night that approaches would be made to those teams now out of the running for the Super 14 play-offs - NSW and Queensland - to allow World Cup contenders who have been carrying niggling injuries to stand down from matches over the remaining three rounds to give them a chance to mend.

"If we feel there is a case to be made on an individual player-by-player basis, we'll be talking to the state unions as we agreed and going through the appropriate channels," Wilson said yesterday.
McMeniman, who limped out of the interstate match with a recurrence of the ankle injury he sustained against the Crusaders in round two, could become a test case, with Jones yesterday indicating he had come through "better than we had thought he would" in the build-up to the Reds' final home match, against the Cheetahs at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday.