James Horwill, who has lifted this Queensland Reds side through voice and deed so many times over the years, had nothing left to give. When asked what went wrong in their 57-29 belting at the hands of the Crusaders, the battle-scarred lock took more than 10 seconds of tortured silence before he could express a single thought.
When he did, it was clear he couldn't come up with a clear answer. Nobody at the Reds can at the moment, not Horwill, nor coach Richard Graham, as the former glory boys who lit up the code just a few years ago find themselves in a downward spiral towards another wooden spoon.
'It hurts': Reds thrashing
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'It hurts': Reds thrashing
The Queensland Reds say "It hurts every single member", after losing 57-29 to the Crusaders, their fifth loss in a row.
After three years of finals football and one title, this has been an astonishing fall from grace. The Reds' fifth loss in succession is their longest losing streak since 2009, when they won just three games and finished second last. They've only won three this season and another victory seems difficult to imagine on current evidence.
If you took the first half at Suncorp Stadium in isolation, you could suggest the Reds were edging back to form. They took a 17-16 lead into the break, finally found some reliable hands in the backline and Quade Cooper and Will Genia made solid choices.
The second half was a bloodbath from the whistle. The home side conceded tries to Wyatt Crockett and Johnny McNicholl by the 45th minute and from that point, any measure of composure was thrown away like a banana peel out the car window.
Graham said his side was guilty of chasing the game early, a highly troubling trait given the wealth of experience within the Reds ranks, many of whom celebrated a grand final win in 2011 and have been part of a squad that for three years has made a habit of hanging in there in tough contests.
"The two tries in five minutes after halftime put us under some pressure. We didn’t handle the next period of time as well as we would have liked," said Graham, who will face fresh scrutiny about his tenure at Ballymore.
"Still, understanding there’s 34 minutes of the contest still to go. That’s the point where you have to remain composed. You just need to make sure you stay on task to get the outcome."
The Reds were lethargic in their kick-chase, although they were often chasing poorly placed chips from Quade Cooper. Mike Harris seemed barely able to throw a pass to hand and ended the day with a broken nose for his troubles. JJ Taulagi, the young winger, was all at sea against elite opposition. That's just the start.
"There were soft moments. Wyatt Crockett’s try - soft moment. Not chasing a kick - soft moment. Fourteen points on the scoreboard, it’s 30-17. You take your foot off the accelerator for two minutes, that’s what happens. I’m not going to sit here and make excuses. We’ve got to be better," Horwill said.
"Maybe we were chasing the game too early That’s one thing about this team … we’re not going to die wondering. We’re going to have a crack. Maybe we should have just settled it down a bit and plugged corners and gone back to more structure."
And that's the real crux of the matter for the Reds at the moment. They are a side at a philosophical crossroads, trying to balance the allure of running rugby with the bare bones of simply trying to win games any way they can, boring or not.
Despite a poor season, 34,000 fans still came through the gates at Suncorp Stadium, the kind of crowd other Australian provinces covet. But they won those fans with a brand of exciting rugby they simply aren't able to reproduce with the current squad. It's a major problem, not just for the football department.
When they fell behind in the second half, they tried to hit back from everywhere and anywhere. In 2011, that probably would have happened. This season, with players like Digby Ioane overseas and a catalogue of injuries to strike players, it never looked like getting off the ground and only led to more Crusaders points.
The Reds have been hugely resistant to dulling down their game but Horwill was starting to sound like his will had been broken; their kingdom for a result.
"I think you have to see the way the trend in the game is going. The two top teams, the Brumbies and the Sharks, they don’t play a lot of rugby in their own half. We want to balance it, we don’t want to be a team that’s all kick. We want to be able to play and for our players to express themselves," Horwill said.
"But we need to look at the way to get the balance right. We don’t want to be a team that does all one thing or all of the other."
The finals are over for the Reds but the Crusaders are surging once again. They are a franchise that has managed to stay at, or near, the top for an extended time. The Reds are finding out just how difficult a task that can become.
Queensland's injury list was topped by Harris's nose, while the Crusaders lost All Black lock Luke Romano to a broken ankle. He was wheeled out of the stadium in a cast.