The importance of a fast start was never more prominent than in the Super Rugby qualifying finals last weekend. You can't beat scoreboard pressure and the Sharks and Crusaders gained a crucial advantage by applying this pressure from the outset.
There are a number of lessons we will take from the Sharks match, where there was no greater demonstration of how statistics aren't always a useful measure of performance.
Despite the loss, we ran more than in any other game this season, with 1030 metres gained, broke more tackles (60), and had a dominant 65 per cent possession advantage. That translated into us having superior attacking territory statistics as we spent 17 minutes in the Sharks half compared with their five. We also won the penalty count and had double the number of phases, while both team's missed tackle statistics were similar and offload count the same.
However in the end you are rightfully only measured by the points you score.
The difference was the opening 25 minutes; the Sharks were more efficient and effective. Generally the Sharks produce their best just after half-time in a period we liken to the ''power play'' of other sports. However, on Saturday it was the intensity of their early raids that did the damage.
There is no doubt when you are playing catch-up you have to take risks and sometimes this limits opportunities. I'm proud we never dropped our heads and were eventually rewarded with a try on full-time.
There were certain moments in the game when we wish we had performed better, while we will also lament the machinations around the TMO decision to deny Liam Gill a try that would have brought us to within 10 points with 25 minutes to go. We felt it was a fair try and SANZAR has admitted so since.
The decision is academic now but after studying the game there were a couple of damning stats that might hold the key to the result. Our turnover rate in the opening 20 minutes was too high, especially in the first five minutes, where we had four opportunities in their half but turned it over on each occasion.
Their first opportunity in our half came in the eighth minute and they walked away with three points. That's finals footy, it's about converting chances.
So where now for the Reds? Well, it's not all doom and gloom. We fought hard to win the Australian Conference and in the context of our total season, this took some effort. No better tale sums this up than the sacrifice made by Beau Robinson and Adam Wallace-Harrison, who were unable to complete a full training week since early May due to chronic injuries. They pushed on for the benefit of the team and were influential in our six-game winning streak to end the regular season.
Depth challenges all teams and we all had it hard at times, but you need those diehard players that will keep fronting up. Beau and Adam are just two players who did this without much thought for self-preservation. Character will take a team far and if you have enough of it then more often than not you create little bits of history and take the team to places where they have never been before.
While we can get bogged down in the loss, we will remember the highlights along the way too. Five players reached the 50-game milestone while we had seven players make their debut.
There were also a number of individual achievements, and it's hard to go past Mike Harris breaking the all-time Super Rugby record with 24 successful shots at goal in a row, while we won't soon forget Dom Shipperley's efforts in round one when he dashed away 70-metres to ensure a win over the Waratahs after the final siren.
But maybe the best part is that the average age of this team for 2012, despite including two 36-year-old veterans, was only 24. Almost all will be back in 2013, hungrier than ever.
On this week's semi-finals, I guess it's fair to say we are the Crusaders favourite team as they avoided a trip to South Africa and will now play the Chiefs in Hamilton.
Their head-to-head record is one apiece this season, but my money is on the Crusaders. The Chiefs have struggled in their past six games, of which they have won just three and conceded more points than they have scored. The extra week can also play mind games but irrespective of the result, there is no denying it will be a cracker. The Sharks have the travel schedule from hell, but they have the game to challenge the Stormers' defence. However, I believe the Sharks will tire and the Stormers will outlast them.