Sacked Queensland Reds coach Richard Graham’s message was no longer getting through to his players and a limp loss at home to last year’s Super Rugby wooden spooners was the final straw, according to the franchise’s head of rugby Daniel Herbert.
The axe finally fell for the embattled Graham on Monday as the dust settled from Queensland’s disastrous 22-6 loss to the Western Force on Saturday night – just months after he was controversially re-appointed after an extensive review into their high-performance operations.
It was the second loss in a row to start the new season and means Graham leaves Ballymore with a record of just nine wins from 34 Super Rugby matches at the helm of the Reds.
Herbert said increasing public pressure didn’t influence the decision, but rather the hollow feeling in the dressing rooms after the Force defeat that proved the team needed a “circuit-breaker” to bring them out of their malaise.
“There’s no excuse at the weekend,” Herbert told reporters.
“You just can’t get away with that performance on the weekend, it was as bad as I’ve seen for a long time.
“Being in the dressing room afterwards, it was very flat as you’d expect.
“It’s not just the result, it’s the manner of which they went about their business. The players have to wear this, they didn’t front up on the weekend.
“You just need to have change when those things happen.”
Assistants Nick Stiles and Matt O’Connor will coach the Reds for the rest of the season and for each, the shared interim role will serve as a mini-audition for the full-time job.
O’Connor would be the immediate frontrunner as he has experience as a head coach with European clubs Leicester and Leinster, but Stiles is highly rated internally after steering Brisbane City to the last two National Rugby Championship titles.
“It might be a little bit unique but in speaking with both Matt and Nick, both are very confident and looking forward to working together,” Herbert said.
But Herbert also said other coaches who applied for the position during last year’s review but weren’t available at the time will be considered.
“I’d like to think the solution is there but we will leave no stone unturned to make sure we get the right candidate,” he said.
Graham said he still felt he had the support of the playing group but that a “perfect storm” of injuries, personnel changes and other influences held the Reds back from playing their best rugby.
“I’m absolutely gutted,” he said.
“You’d always like more games. At the end of the day I don’t think the timing’s ever right, but that’s the nature of the business.
“Ultimately you get judged on the Ws and the Ls and the organisation have had to make a decision and I accept that.”