The Western Force are shaping as the fairy tale story of 2014 after shooting up to fourth on the table, but the Reds will struggle to make the finals this year.
The grass isn’t necessarily greener on the other side, and Queensland Reds coach Richard Graham is finding this out the hard way.
The Reds’ Super Rugby finals hopes hang in the balance after their 35-21 loss to the Hurricanes in Wellington left them last in the Australian conference and 13th overall.
In contrast, Graham’s former side – the Western Force – are sitting pretty in fourth spot after grinding out a 15-9 win over the Bulls in the wet on Saturday night.
Graham left the Force midway through 2012 in order to link up with the Reds, where he inherited a talent-laden squad from Ewen McKenzie at the end of last year.
Queensland played in three straight finals campaigns and won the title in 2011 under McKenzie’s watch.
But their era of success is now in danger of coming to a swift end, and the pressure is growing on Graham to turn around the team’s flagging fortunes.
Adding to their woes is an ankle injury to Will Genia that could keep the star scrumhalf out of Friday’s crunch clash with the Blues in Auckland.
The Reds have conceded a worrying 10 tries in their past three matches, but Graham is refusing to concede his team’s finals hopes are shot.
“We’ve got to continue to believe that we’re a bloody good side capable of turning this around and gathering some momentum and posting a number of consecutive wins together,” Graham said.
The Force hit rock bottom in 2012 when both Graham and skipper David Pocock departed the perennial strugglers.
The Perth-based franchise endured more pain last year under new coach Michael Foley, but they’re shaping as the fairytale story of 2014 after snaring six wins from their past seven games.
Force players will use their upcoming bye week to rest their bruised and battered bodies, before embarking on a two-match tour of South Africa where they will take on the battling Cheetahs and Stormers.
Ten wins has been the magic number to make the finals in recent years, meaning the Force may still need to win at least four of their remaining seven games to secure a top-six berth.
“We’re still a fair way off that,” Foley said.
“The big thing for us is to keep our heads down and keep ticking the boxes.
“If we can be humble and keep working hard, then the rest will take care of itself.”
The Brumbies remain on top of the Australian conference following their 41-23 win over the Chiefs in Canberra, while the Waratahs face a fight to stay in the top six after losing 21-13 to the Blues.
The Sharks are still in top spot overall despite their shock 34-18 loss to the Highlanders in Durban, while the Stormers are in danger of finishing with the wooden spoon after losing to the Cheetahs 35-22.