Reds accept the reality of horror season
REDS rookie Hamish Stewart had a face-to-face meeting with All Blacks great Andrew Mehrtens in the hours after Queensland's Super Rugby campaign fizzled out.
Even with the season gone with a 4-11 win-loss record, coach Nick Stiles and assistant Brad Thorn sat in to advance the education of a 19-year-old player for a brighter 2018.
In a nutshell, it summed up the contradictory energy to this frustrating season, so much work to improve and too few hard results to dare utter the word "revival".
The harsh facts are these, the Reds were 0-5 in clashes against the Kiwis, although they were seconds from upsetting the Crusaders with one of their best displays.
They beat two Aussie opponents and played their best, most intense hour of the year to lead the Waratahs, before faltering, which is some improvement on the lame 0-6 slate in derbies last year.
"The takeaway is obviously disappointment because we are a better side than four wins but that's exactly where we are to be blunt," Stiles said after Friday's 40-17 loss to the Highlanders.
Stiles said the key point of the season was the lacklustre loss when leading the Western Force in the second round and the full-time penalty that cost a win over the Crusaders a week later.
"Winning our first game gave us a real chance to create some momentum but not backing it up in those two games meant a totally different story," Stiles said.
"We created chances all season and messed up a simple pass with a try in the final game.
Flyhalf-fullback cub Stewart played five times off the bench in Stiles' fearless efforts to flush out fresh backs as well as young gun forwards like Izack Rodda, Lukhan Tui, Alex Mafi and Taniela Tupou.
"Andrew Mehrtens came back to our hotel in Dunedin for a really good chat with Hamish and those influences can only help him," Stiles said.
Eleven players aged 21 or under played for the Reds this season, a jump to Generation Next that already looks to have found five potential gems.
Stiles will also turn the mirror on himself to see where he can improve as a coach.
"I'll review myself to the nth degree because I can't ask that of the players if I'm not asking it of myself," Stiles said.
Jake McIntyre (Agen, France), Leroy Houston (Bordeaux, France) and Campbell Magnay (Suntory, Japan) are off to new clubs while Rob Simmons is undecided on his future.