Thorn on Kiwis’ coaching radar
THE Reds must lock in Brad Thorn as their long-term coach now he has kicked the sceptics into touch and become a prime poaching target for the Kiwis.
The Queensland Rugby Union took a massive punt last October by putting the future of the underperforming Reds in the hands of a rookie coach.
The pay-off has been the Reds' best start since 2013, climbing off the canvas to upset the Lions 27-22 last Saturday and, finally, a second half to the season that still means something.
Put in a broader context, only one coach of the previous eight that the Reds have churned through since 2001 has done better in his first nine games in charge.
A 4-5 win-loss ledger still has some warts on it with a 24-point loss to the only Kiwi side encountered.
Still, there have been significant strides and the re-establishing of a clear identity of physical authority after so much losing heartache in recent years.
Thorn has doubled the 2-7 lift-off for Nick Stiles last year and lapped Eddie Jones (1-8) in his horror 2007 misfire.
Only Ewen McKenzie (2010) has produced a better start (6-3) to his tenure at the Reds over a volatile period.
The Kiwis have a strict non-selection policy on players abroad but it definitely doesn't apply to coaches being swung back to New Zealand.
Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger, a favourite son of the All Blacks just like Thorn, was hired direct from refining his craft at English club Leicester.
Sources in New Zealand have revealed Thorn's progress as Reds coach is being closely monitored.
"We don't know who's going to own Thorny, whether he's an Australian or a Kiwi (as a coach), but it's great he's put competitiveness back in the franchise," All Blacks great John Kirwan said.
Thorn is only signed for this season and next.
Galvanising the dressingroom behind him suggests the QRU should be rushing to extend his deal through 2020 at least.
The QRU must make the move even though Thorn's parochial words after toppling the Lions were all about being in this for the long haul.
"I can't really afford to think about Australian rugby," Thorn said.
"I've got a job here at Queensland and I've just got this wonderful group of young men and a really good staff.
"We're pretty passionate about Queensland and we want to do some stuff."
The Reds (17 points) are in a six-way hunt for the final two spots in the top eight finals with the Rebels (21), Jaguares (20), Bulls (20), Stormers (18) and Sharks (18).
The Reds can't slacken against the winless Sunwolves because the Japanese will be plotting an ambush when the Reds play next in Tokyo on Saturday week.
Thorn was delighted with the showing of young flyhalf Hamish Stewart against the Lions but he's backing Jono Lance for Tokyo.
"He's paying his dues at the moment and, if Jono's fit, he would still be my first choice," Thorn said.
"In saying that, you want Hamish to keep pushing because a lot of positives came out of that big game against the Lions at home for him."
CAN BRAD THORN COACH?
(First-year Reds coaches ... after 9 games)
Mark McBain (2001) ... 4-5
Andrew Slack (2003) ... 3-6
Jeff Miller (2004) ... 3-6
Eddie Jones (2007) ... 1-8
Phil Mooney (2008) ... 3-5 (plus 1 draw)
Ewen McKenzie (2010) ... 6-3
Richard Graham (2014) ... 3-6
Nick Stiles (2017) ... 2-7
BRAD THORN (2018) ... 4-5