Far from being left crippled by the Wallabies’ year of doom, Fraser McReight says he’s fresh and excited to start a new chapter under Les Kiss at the Queensland Reds.
Four years after leading the Junior Wallabies to the under-20s world championship final, the experience of playing at his first World Cup campaign could not have been starker.
Other than being a part of the first Wallabies side not to make the knockout stages of the tournament, their campaign was derailed by controversial selection omissions, curious tactics, injury headaches and Eddie Jones’ link to the Japanese head coaching role.
It led to some commentators, including World Cup-winner and former Wallabies captain Michael Lynagh, questioning what form of mental scarring it would leave on the group.
While McReight didn’t want to talk on behalf of others, the openside flanker said it was a “clean slate” now and he was eager to turn a new page under Kiss.
“The World Cup’s behind us now, with Eddie and all that chat – I wish him the best, but for us it’s done,” said McReight at the announcement of the Reds’ multi-million-dollar, four-year deal with new principal partner BMS.
“It’s a clean slate … (it’s) refreshing to come back to the Reds after there was this big hype to a point.
“It depends on the player you ask and what their mindset is and how they’re built. I know what they’ve done for me.
“I’m super eager to get back on the park and rip in with the Reds.”
There was no shortage of drama in Australian rugby over the past four-year World Cup.
From the Covid-19 pandemic bringing the world to a crashing halt, a new Super Rugby competition and the return of the Western Force, two overhauls of the Rugby Australia board, two Wallabies coaches and six Test captains in one year, McReight said there was an element of a weight being lifted off their shoulders following the dramatic World Cup cycle.
“It’s exactly that. I think it’s refreshing,” he said.
“There’s a big hype up to a point. You come back here and it’s refreshing. We’ve got brand new people in the squad, new coaches, new facility, new partner, that’s the refreshing side of it.
“After a milestone that’s just happened, to come back here and be able to restart our game, I’ve still got a lot of growth. I’m fresh and ready to rip in.”
The person in charge of ensuring the Queensland Reds at least pull their weight with the rebuild is former State of Origin winger turned coach Kiss, who is back in Australia after the best part of two decades coaching overseas with Ireland, Ulster and London Irish.
After overseeing London Irish’s rise up the English Premiership standings before financial struggles saw the club go under, Kiss will be tasked with making a middle-of-the-road side a great one.
Asked where the greatest improvement lay with the Reds, Kiss said helping them see – and land – the killer blow was essential.
“I just want them to be pull the trigger, have the confidence to play the game with courage and finish their opportunities,” he said.
“And just game management overall. The game’s getting tougher and tougher. Teams are getting better at defence, better at set-piece, you’ve got to be able to skin the cat in many different ways, so just to offer some variation about how we can approach different battles and different game styles, and still stay true to what we want to do.”
Kiss said they would only be able to achieve that if the team had a clear understanding of their principles of play.
“Once you’ve got key principles, you understand what they look like, smell like, feel like, sound like, you can act with conviction,” he said.
“Pulling the trigger when pictures are clearer is a lot better than pulling the trigger when you’re not clear.”
Who wears the No.10 jersey in 2024 will play a key role in delivering Kiss’ plan.
While Tom Lynagh, the son of Reds and Wallabies great Michael, finished his debut season this year in the jersey, he faces significant pressure from Lawson Creighton and fellow young gun Harry McLaughlin-Phillips. Veteran James O’Connor, meanwhile, is likely to continue to rotate between positions, especially as he makes his way back from another injury.
Kiss gave nothing away when asked who would wear the jersey.
“We’ve got options,” he said.
“Speaking to all of them, they’ve got some particular strength that can come to the fore. A style of game where they have the courage and comms to back the pictures that they see and play footy.
“I feel very comfortable that I can lean on the experience of a James [O’Connor] right down to the youth of a Harry and in-between you’ve got a Tom Lynagh and Lawson. It’s a good position to be. Who starts? We’ll find out.”