Are the Reds set for a huge fall from grace? James Gemmell says they're down, but not out... yet.
Last Updated: 05/04/12 4:43pm
It was a humiliation few defending champions have to endure.
A 60-point hiding at the hands of the Bulls is one thing, leaking 45 to the Force, something else altogether. Surely, the Reds are headed for the most comprehensive fall from grace in Super Rugby history?
Well, not quite. Or not yet, at least.
Thanks to three first-up, albeit scratchy, wins, the Reds have compiled 13 competition points and currently sit ninth on the overall table. Their season so far is a tale of injury woe, epitomised by the crisis at fly-half.
Less than a year ago the man in the Reds number ten jersey was taking the rugby world by storm. It was as revered a shirt as any in Super Rugby. In their next game, it will be pulled on by its fifth owner in seven games.
Ewen McKenzie must just about be considering it himself. His nickname 'Link' has little to do with connecting the forwards and backs, but it's almost gotta be worth a try.
No, McKenzie's job is far more important than any single player or position, and the next few weeks could very well be the most testing of his career.
The Reds may be down, but they are not yet out.
On their side is the new conference system. At regular season's end, the three conference leaders will be ranked first, second and third heading into the knockout stages, their progress guaranteed irrespective of overall competition points.
This is the Reds' lifeline. The Australian conference is the weakest of the three, and although the Queenslanders have been losing, so too have their countrymen of late. The Brumbies, their opponents this week, lead the way on 18 points, but remarkably the Reds are currently in second.
A quick scan of the conferences confirms the relative strengths of Super Rugby. Following week six, the average competition points for New Zealand teams was 17.6, for South African teams 16.6, while the Aussies have an average accumulation of just 13.2.
If the Reds can keep in touch with the top of their local conference, and ride the injury storm in the meantime, they may just keep their season alive.
Time is fast running out though, and this weekend's fixture is absolutely essential for their season.
They have returned home to Suncorp Stadium, the scene of their triumph last season, and are playing in front of the fans that followed them to that glory. Those fans will not accept continued failure, and the team's spirit and morale is at tipping point.
Then of course there's the maths of the situation. Lose to the Brumbies this weekend and that top Australian spot stretches out of reach; pick up the win and anything, and everything, is possible once again.
Rarely does a mid-season fixture mean so much.