Queensland coach Richard Graham is refusing to lay the blame on lock James Horwill for their costly Super Rugby loss to the Melbourne Rebels.
The Reds played their best opening stanza of the season at AAMI Park but the game turned when Horwill was sent off in the 21st minute after he struck Rebels prop Paul Alo-Emile in a tackle.
The 14-man Queensland side tackled their hearts out but, eventually, the weight of possession and territory held by the Rebels resulted in the 23-15 scoreline.
Horwill, who also earned a red card in round one after being sin-binned twice, was suspended by SANZAR for a week and will miss their next match against the Bulls in Pretoria.
With an injury cloud over star five-eighth Quade Cooper, who hurt his shoulder during the match, and the Reds floundering near the bottom of the ladder, Horwill’s ill-discipline couldn’t have come at a worse time.
But Graham, whose job is on the line, said the former Wallabies’ skipper would be hard enough on himself.
“He’ll be absolutely devastated,” Graham said.
“He has bled for the place for a long time and you can’t hang him out to dry.
“He knows what he’s done has obviously let the team down but, at the same time, we’re not in the business of hanging blokes out to dry.”
Graham was obviously disappointed not to get the much-needed win but couldn’t fault the effort by his players.
“They said at halftime they weren’t going to make excuses and were going to stand up for each other and I thought they were exceptional in that,” he said.
“The level of composure and leadership in the group was outstanding, led by James (Slipper) and Will (Genia).”
The Reds take on the Cheetahs following the Bulls and should at least have Test lock Rob Simmons (shoulder) back in the line-up for the first time this season.
Code-hopper Karmichael Hunt also re-started his rugby career with about 13 minutes of game time at AAMI Park after a six-week suspension for cocaine possession.
Graham remained upbeat about their season.
“You reflect on two or three things – the way that we started the game showed what we’re capable of and the character we showed as a group.
“As we go away for these next two weeks, we can build on that.”