‘Be useful’: how unrivalled discipline and work rate is lifting the Reds to new heights


The Queensland Reds’ victory over competition favourites the Chiefs was the third consecutive game where they improved, and this consistency of performance speaks volumes of Les Kiss’ coaching ethos.

The culture being grown at Ballymore is one of unyielding workrate – or as tighthead prop Zane Nonggorr told Stan Sport in Saturday’s post-match, Kiss requires players to ‘be useful’.

It paints the picture of a team who is determined to outwork their opponents.

The consistency of results, against more difficult opposition each week shows the team can is continuously evolving and implementing the weekend’s lessons into their upcoming game.

What makes their steady growth more impressive is they’ve done it with significant personnel changes.

Everyone appears to be across the detail, from attacking shape to ruck and defence principles.

Although the results have been encouraging, facing two of the competition’s best teams in the Hurricanes and Chiefs back-to-back explains why the Reds’ stats are solid but not groundbreaking.

A tackling average of 85 per cent and a ruck success rate of 95 per cent gives them a good base with room for improvement.

However, what is eye catching is the average 75 gain line carries per game and a lower penalty rate than their opponents.

The penalty numbers are very impressive. They conceded eight against the Waratahs, 10 against the Hurricanes and only five against the Chiefs. Conversely, those teams racked up 10, 14 and 10 respectively.

The Reds are the least penalised side in the competition.

Queensland Reds celebrate victory over the Chiefs. (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

This stat alone illustrates how much the team has changed in just a few months, because at times throughout 2023 they were pinged off the park.

This incredible discipline means the Reds’ opponents can’t alleviate pressure through the Reds’ infringements and that relentless pressure is playing a key role in the Queenslander’s success.

The other standout stat is the gain line carries, where they are well ahead of the other Australian teams.

The closest Aussie team is the Brumbies on 63, while the Waratahs are down on 54 and the others strewn somewhere in between.

The Reds are on par with the Chiefs, and only have the Drua, Hurricanes and Blues sitting ahead of them on 77, 81 and 87 respectively.

Yet, looking at their team, especially their forward pack on paper, they’re not a side that screams ‘gain line metres’ but that’s what Kiss and co.’s hard work has led to.

Against the Chiefs they found weak shoulders after creating space across the park.

Sweeping backline plays off set-piece with simple out the back balls and flat line running saw the Reds find space on the edges.

What is most pleasing and perhaps most frustrating for skills coach Jonathan Fisher and Kiss is that; had the ball been caught in the second snippet, Jock Campbell would likely have scored.

Then looking at the first and third snippet in the clip above, had halfback Tate McDermott and flyhalf Tom Lynagh hit Campbell in both instances and the ball not go to ground, a line break would’ve been made and a try would’ve been a possibility.

This slight lack of execution probably buoys Kiss and Fisher, knowing that if they can get those shapes right, they could be putting a couple more tries on some of the best defences in the competition.

Subsequently, when the Reds can generate front-foot ball, Lynagh is able to play on-top of the opposition.

Having the opposition back-peddling means it’s harder to get around the corner and this stretches defences.

The Reds can play two or three simple phases and land in a 15-metre channel on either side.

By stacking Harry Wilson or Seru Uru in these channels they have created a mismatch, one that will draw the attention of a defender in a way a back wouldn’t.

The pair also happen to have some of the silkiest hands in the team and can offload or pass to put their teammates into space in these close quarters.

In the first snippet, the Reds are on the back foot but are in their cherished 15m channel. McDermott throws a flat, short, cut-out pass to Josh Flook, and they make 20 metres before spilling the ball.

Then in the second snippet, McDermott once again skip-passes Wilson and with a quick tip-on from Fraser McReight puts Suliasi Vunivalu away for a line break, then Wilson and McReight link up to score the try.

‘A pass will always beat the man’ is a favourite line of most age group coaches, and the Reds are only throwing five or six metre cut outs as opposed to big 10 metre ones.

This short pass beats the drift defence while the overload of numbers fixes the outnumbered blind sides, it also provides the wide carrier with an easy gain line carry on a weak shoulder.

However, neither of these come off without the effort done by the players without the ball.

Mac Grealy is the left winger and carries onto the 15m line on the right edge.

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Similarly, Wilson hits one ruck in the build-up then runs an 20m arcing run to create the overlap that keeps the Chief’s defence from drifting.

While the support lines of Wilson, McReight and McDermott are innate to those individuals, support lines have proven to be a big part of what the Reds are working on.

The system standards appear rigorous, but there is room for fluidity which charges individuals with responsibility to make the required efforts when faced with certain structures.

‘Being useful’ could also mean giving 100 per cent effort and that’s exactly what is happening.

Jeff Toomaga-Allen celebrates Queensland’s Super Rugby Pacific win over the Chiefs. (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

Co-captain Liam Wright, lock Ryan Smith and openside flanker McReight are competition leading in attacking rucks hit with 34, 32 and 31 respectively.

This is a mammoth effort but also lays bare the work that is going into putting ballers like Wilson in space – it doesn’t just happen.

While they can’t claim they are the biggest pack, they are the hardest working, and forwards coach Zane Hilton would be pleased how his entire team are going about the tough stuff at breakdown time.

A change of coaching structure is allowing the team to reach its potential and as laid out, they have not yet reached their ceiling.

Mistakes from set-piece, in general play and a defensive record which needs to improve by four or so per cent are all evidence of this.

The Reds are working exceptionally hard to stay on this upwards trajectory and as long as there is no burnout and the discipline remains, they could be in for their best year since winning Super Rugby AU in 2021.

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