Watching Queensland’s woeful start to the Super Rugby season from a distance hasn’t been easy for captain James Slipper.
But as he prepares for his return to the starting line-up in Saturday night’s clash with reigning champions the Highlanders, injury has helped him put it all in perspective.
“We haven’t had a great start to the year, we’ve lost our coach,” Slipper said on Friday.
“But the beauty of everything is we’re heading on the right track.
“Especially in the last three games we can definitely see an improvement in the way we’re playing the game.”
So much so that Slipper says parallels can be drawn between the Reds of today and the struggling team that eventually broke through a period of what felt like never-ending heartbreak to become champions in 2011.
“It’s funny, it’s hard to know what sort of direction you’re heading in at the times where you’re at your lowest,” he said.
“The way we’ve tracked over the last month or so has been positive and that’s reflective of what happened back in those days.
“We just want to play a game our fans can be proud of, and that’s what we based our game off back when we were building last time.”
While the Reds are certainly on the up, they are still winless and not even the most optimistic of supporters would give them much chance against the Highlanders, who have won five of their six games and sit in second place in the New Zealand conference.
They have made a mass of changes to the side that beat the Western Force last weekend – the list headed by the loss of arguably the world’s best fullback Ben Smith due to concussion.
But the Otago franchise will still bring a very strong line-up to Suncorp Stadium, and boast a scrum with a 94 per cent success rate that will give Queensland’s usually dominant pack a true run for its money.
Slipper, who made his return from off-season knee and shoulder issues in the loss to the NSW Waratahs two weeks ago, said the Reds owe their fanatical support base a good performance.
“We’ve got a squad at the moment that’s young, building experience and it’s times like these the fans do need to be patient,” he said.
“But we understand they want the best rugby and that’s something we’re trying to deliver.”