Queensland Reds coach Richard Graham has left the club just minutes after his side was ranked last on the KFC Super Rugby Power Rankings. Scotty Stevenson reports.
Richard Graham walked out of Ballymore yesterday after overseeing one of the great declines in Super Rugby history. Yes, he walked out, but it was the Reds board that opened the door – a board that is about to get a major shake up of its own.
According to sources close to the team, Graham was a dead man walking last season when interim Chairman Damien Frawley presented a report to the board that recommended Graham be relieved of head coaching duties before the end of the 2015 season. That report was blocked at the time, but any push back has, this year, evaporated faster than the Reds’ season hopes.
Moreover, Frawley – a board member of the Reds since 2013 – has made no secret of his wish to undertake more cleanout work in the organisation. Current CEO Jim Carmichael may well be looking over his shoulder, given the fact the Reds boasted crowds of 34,000 in the 2011 and 2012 seasons, yet on Saturday struggled to reach half that number at Suncorp Stadium.
The board will meet on March 19, at which point it is understood up to four positions on that board will be contested.
Graham’s struggles to get the necessary buy-in from the team are not new. The Spinoff has discovered that a number of high profile players had in recent seasons voiced their concerns about Graham to the board. Not every player revolution is justified, but given the subsequent sacking of the coach it seems those concerns were both prescient and wrongfully ignored.
So where does this leave the team? Matt O’Connor, who has extensive experience in European Rugby with Leicester and Leinster, has been appointed interim co-coach with Nick Stiles. O’Connor has been the attack coach at the Reds, while Stiles has been looking after the set piece.
It looks likely that the Reds board will allow O’Connor and Stiles to continue in the role at least until the end of the season. O’Connor will be under the most scrutiny given the former Brumbies player and one-cap Wallaby’s attack plan has so far netted one try and just 16 points in the first two rounds of the 2016 season.
Stiles enjoyed success with Brisbane in last season’s Australian domestic NRC league with insiders wonder whether that success was entirely attributable to coaching or the fact the Brisbane side boasted more full-time professionals than any other side.
Whatever the relative merits of O’Connor and Stiles, and regardless of what happens at the crucial meeting on March 19, the Reds board’s first priority must surely be to give its coaches – interim or otherwise – the peace of mind to build a rugby programme again.
As one notable Queensland rugby identity said, “Queenslanders don’t like hanging around with losers. If this team wants the fans back, they had better start winning.”