Queensland Reds hit by injuriesComment on this story
Sydney - The Queensland Reds would have been hoping for just a hint of a smile from lady luck this week going into a Super Rugby contest against the seven-times champion Canterbury Crusaders on the back of four successive defeats.
Instead she appeared to frown upon them.
On Monday, Wallabies prop James Slipper's citing for a dangerous tackle in last weekend's 44-14 defeat at the Auckland Blues earned him a three-week ban.
On Tuesday, they lost two more Wallabies to injury with influential openside flanker Liam Gill and centre Chris Feauai-Sautia joining loose forward Eddie Quirk in the treatment room.
With the Reds languishing third bottom of the standings, their playoff hopes all but extinguished, it is easy to forget that Sunday's game is the first meeting of the two sides at Lang Park since the 2011 Super Rugby final.
The swashbuckling Reds triumphed on that day and the likes of lock James Horwill, scrumhalf Will Genia and flyhalf Quade Cooper went on to form the core of a Wallabies side that won the Tri-Nations and finished third at the World Cup.
The Reds lost in the semi-finals in 2012 and last year, with coach Ewen McKenzie on his way out of the door to take the Wallabies job, were thumped 38-9 in the first round of the playoffs - by the Crusaders.
This year, they have managed just three wins in 10 games.
“Obviously it's tough times on the back of four straight losses, but you've just got to roll with it,” Genia said this week.
“It's obviously very disappointing, but that's part of sport, there's always winners and losers.
“The match against the Crusaders is an easy one to get up for, a benchmark side for many years now, and we're obviously very motivated.”
Motivation might not be enough for under-fire coach Richard Graham's side.
The notoriously slow-starting Crusaders looked to have finally hit their stride in a 40-20 demolition of Australian conference leaders ACT Brumbies in Christchurch last weekend. It was their fourth straight win.
And as a result of the injuries to Gill and Quirk, Curtis Browning will be pitched into his first Super Rugby start in a back row battle against three-times World Player of the Year Richie McCaw.
The Reds will, however, be spared the presence of last year's winner of the most prestigious individual award in rugby with number eight Kieran Read missing another week because of a concussion.
Genia, who was among the six nominees for the award in 2011, at least has experience of what it takes to turn around a struggling team, having played in Reds teams that finished 14th, 12th and 13th in his first three seasons in Super 14.
“The message to the team from guys like James, Quade and myself is to keep backing ourselves and keep working,” he said.
“It's a little bit of a cliche, but in tough times you've just got to stay tight and work hard.” – Reuters