THE streamlined Super Rugby schedule for next season has jumped in quality yet it packs a punch of reality for the poorly performed Queensland Reds.
Cutting clubs to create a more coherent 15-team competition in a three-conference format also means three of the easier opponents for the Reds no longer exist.
The Reds have won just 11 matches over the past three seasons and five of those came against clubs that have been chopped - the Cheetahs (two), Western Force (two) and Southern Kings (one).
The 2018 draw released yesterday included some notable highlights.
The Reds' first home game against the Brumbies on March 2 is one of three Friday night games among the eight home clashes at Suncorp Stadium.
The traditional interstate clash against the Waratahs has been restored to home-and-away status after last year's mutated draw for 18 teams dictated just one.
The Reds will also make their first visit to Japan since Quade Cooper's 2006 debut to tackle the Sunwolves in Tokyo on May 12.
The Highlanders and Chiefs are the Kiwi visitors but there is no clash against the champion Crusaders.
"The return of home-and-away derbies and eight home games are a big positive from the Reds' perspective," Queensland Rugby Union chief executive Richard Barker said.
Ending speculation around the head coach would be helpful.
Barker yesterday could still offer no comment on whether Nick Stiles would be at the helm next year despite a season review being completed weeks ago.
Whatever title new senior assistant coach Tony McGahan ends up with, the opening-round clash against his former Rebels club in Melbourne will have plenty of edge to it.
Stiles did not grab for excuses in July when what could have been a seven-win campaign lurched home as something far less.
"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.
"We created chances all season but skill execution under intense Kiwi pressure is something we must get far better at."
Stiles' youth policy is set to reap dividends for the Reds because Izack Rodda has since earned a Wallabies debut and Izaia Perese, Lukhan Tui and Adam Korczyk are not far behind.
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