Straight shooting Reds coach Brad Thorn has given Wallabies hopefuls Seru Uru and Fraser McReight some clear areas for improvement after dropping the loose forward duo from his side to tackle the competition-leading Blues in Brisbane on Friday night.
The inaugural Super Rugby trans-Tasman competition has laid bare the extent of the gulf that still exists between Australia and New Zealand.
Australian sides are 1-14 in the win-loss column after Thorn’s Queensland finally broke through last weekend with a wild 40-34 shootout victory over the Chiefs in Townsville.
But dual code legend and former All Blacks hardman Thorn is far from satisfied and explained on Thursday why he had given Wallabies squad members Uru and McReight the week off.
“Seru, I’ve been trying to challenge him around his physicality,” Thorn told reporters.
“He is an outstanding football player but there’s the physical side of the football game as well. It’s not touch football. If he gets that physical side of the game, he can be a great player because he has all that other stuff.”
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“No one works harder than Fraser. His work ethic around the park is phenomenal but the defensive side of the game is something he needs to put some work into.”
In some fascinating comments, Thorn also expressed his fears for Australian rugby after scrapping the second-tier NRC amid the COVID-19 pandemic last year.
“My concern is not having NRC,” said Thorn, who cut his coaching teeth in the competition with Queensland Country before stepping up to Super Rugby.
Thorn led the Reds to a drought breaking Super Rugby AU title this year and also experienced New Zealand’s two-tier professional system with the Crusaders, Highlanders, Canterbury and Tasman.
“You look at the Crusaders, they have Tasman and Canterbury – two of the strongest teams in the Bunnings Cup (as feeder/development teams),” Thorn said.
“For us (Reds) we had (Queensland) Country and (Brisbane) City and if you look at our squad, a lot of our guys came through that gap between club and Super.
“Not having that for me, that’s a tough one. Something has to be done. You have the Currie Cup, Championship in England. Your Test players go away, that’s awesome but you have to have that middle ground for guys to cut their teeth and coaches as well.
“We (Reds) use it better than anyone else in the country I reckon and we had that 20’s tournament a few years back that got finished, the NRC that got finished and now there’s a gap.
“Meanwhile, the Bunnings Cup will be going (in NZ) and all those guys get that exposure so that’s a big hole for me because we want to get better. You can train as much as you want but you need to play in different experiences and scenarios.”
Thorn also expanded on the gap in quality between the AU and trans-Tasman competitions.
The Reds went 7-1 in in AU before winning the grand final but sit sixth in the crossover comp with a 1-2 record.
The Rugby World Cup winner said Australia needed to keep competing against the Kiwis in Super Rugby rather than going into their shells with a domestic comp.
“Five games into Super Rugby AU I got interviewed and I wasn’t happy because we were playing the Waratahs, (conceding) 19 turnovers and winning,” Thorn explained.
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“We’re looking for quality rugby so the NZ teams are showing if you give up turnover ball, have some lapses then you’ll give up tries.
“It’s high quality and we need to play that. I was unhappy after those five games because I know reality and that’s why I was saying we needed to play the Kiwis.
“Next year, we need that competition because you look a couple of years ago, the margins were under 10 points if we lost so it’s important that we play the best.
“New Zealand rugby play an attacking style of rugby which is how we play – and if you notice our game’s changed and grown since AU. When we played against the Chiefs, we played a lot of positive footy even with them a man down but it’s that defensive side, being able to handle the skill set and ability of those guys.”