Waratahs crisis forum: beware Ides of May?

Bay35Pablo Roar Rookie

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    When I saw that the Waratahs had announced a series of fan forums starting this Thursday (19 May), apparently to discuss how the Tahs could improve their fortunes and crowd numbers, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

    In part because I already have a prior engagement which means I can’t attend that first one.

    Although whether I would have got a comment or question in edgeways is an open question.

    While the forum is apparently the first in a series, and with the indicated aim of providing fans with feedback and an inside perspective on the Tahs, it has been viewed by the media as a reaction to the crisis in support for the Tahs. That is, dwindling crowd numbers and crowds that are quite willing to jeer their own team.

    The fact that the Tahs have not seen fit to have such forums previously gives a feel for the former.

    The new regime of Waratahs Ltd (see below) would say the new broom is bringing new ideas, and this is why it is being done for the first time. But as always, perception becomes reality …

    I’ll be interested to see what format they adopt to prevent it becoming chaos, but also whether any filtering is present to avoid or minimise the thorny questions and present the “Dorothy Dixers” that parliamentarians love so much.

    Suffice to say if the fans don’t provide some venom and a bollocking, I’ll be surprised and indeed suspicious. This has all the prospects of making Julius Caesar’s last wander down to the forum look positively civil.

    However, I also hope that the responses to questions won’t be as bland as those recently served up to The Roar by Jason Allen. See my comments on that post taking issue in that regard.

    Two suggestions to begin with:

    (i) Provide more than a week’s notice. Strangely enough all us fans have jobs and families that don’t revolve around rugby, and we might need to move things, or make allowances to attend.

    (ii) Don’t have it on a week night, especially a Thursday. A Sunday afternoon would have been better. Straight away you have disenfranchised anyone with training that night (um, rugby players), anyone whose kids have training that night (um, parents of junior rugby players), anyone who has young kids, anyone who works long hours… in fact, you’ll be lucky to get two men and a dog when I think about it…

    Keep in mind the Tahs are now run by a separate body, being Waratahs Ltd, after splitting off from NSWRU earlier this year. However, this break doesn’t really wash away the pong that hangs around the Tahs from years of perception of poor administration.

    The Tahs bosses are as on the nose as the previous NSW Labor government, and the fact a bunch of new chums may be in charge will probably help them as much as it did old Kristina Keneally.

    So is this forum just a PR exercise to make the fans feel like they have a voice, or a desperate cry for help by a team that has really lost any clue?

    I don’t know which one is worse. But if the boys and girls at Moore Park seriously need the fans to tell them, presumably a bunch of qualified and paid (if not highly on both counts) professionals, then what are they doing down there? Playing Tetris and shopping their CV around to other sporting codes?

    And if anyone from the Tahs happens to stumble on this here old blog and feel like they can’t pull a trick, damned if they do and damned if they don’t, you’re right!

    Unfortunately all patience is now running out. You had your first, second and third chances, all Mulligans and some favours you never even knew you called on.

    Tahs fans aren’t so much mad as hell (although the Cheetahs game did provoke that, too), but just sick of it all. When the rusted on supporters start losing passion, you’re in serious trouble.

    Here’s a few tips on the questions I see them needing to deal with. Apologies to all those Roarers for whom this is repetition (in fact the Tahs don’t need this forum – just arguably to spend a few hours reading The Roar from the last few years), but given I can’t get down to this forum and clearly the Tahs need telling, I’ll repeat them and also provide Roarers with a chance to add their 20 cents worth.

    1. Where’s the leadership and the plan?

    I.e. start being seen to act like a professional sporting team administration. See above for my comments above about the clean break, but the unfortunate thing is that the NSWRU has been long seen as a cross between David Williamson’s ‘The Club’ and an episode of ‘Desperate Housewives’.

    The NSWRU has seemed more likely to be infighting or fighting with the ARU, rather than running the game in NSW. The junior unions seem to have long complained they were ignored. Club rugby seemed to have been abandoned as dysfunctional (takes one to know one) and any thought of reform abandoned. And whenever a new coach needed to be picked, it all stepped up a notch.

    So Waratahs Ltd needs to do everything to get away from that perception.

    One thing that is sorely lacking is any sense of vision at NSWRU or the Tahs. While I am one to hate mission statements and that guff, I do feel like they need to set out how they are planning to develop and grow the game in NSW, and also the Tahs’ approach to the game as a team.

    If you don’t say it, we don’t necessarily get it. But mainly because if you actually set it out we could have something to measure you by, and beat you over the head when you didn’t do it (“Where’s the running rugby you promised?!”-thwack!).

    But back to to coaching.

    2. Where’s the coaching and the structure?

    I cannot remember the last time the ostensible first pick coach got the job. Picking coaches seems to turn into Keystone Kops, with rumours of Board Member A talking to X, while Board member B talks to Y, leading to coach X walking away… The irony being from memory Ewen McKenzie, our best coach during the professional era, wasn’t first choice at the time.

    Ewen’s parting with the Tahs is a case in point, when the going get tough the coach got the punt when a number of other ills were also a problem (and arguably still are). Cue next round of Whacky Races to pick a successor.

    By all accounts Chris Hickey is a good coach and a good bloke. He certainly had a good CV before coming to the Tahs. However, in game after game I seem to watch a team without structure or plan. One off runs. The half back passing to forwards standing still who then get monstered. Tries scored from individual brilliance rather than built.

    This causes many fans to question what they hell they practice all week, because it doesn’t seem to show on the field. Oh it does against a poor team when we can show we are flat track bullies. But usually against the top teams when the pressure is on, we start to look like Bambi in the headlights. And that’s always the test of a truly great team. Winning under pressure, or from behind.

    Which brings us to style. And this I think is the big one all fans complain about.

    3. Where’s the entertainment?

    The Tahs make watching paint dry a viable option at times. The Tahs dish up dirge after dirge, while teams like the Blues and the Reds show that rugby can be played in an exciting way, and winning way.

    When the fans start chanting “Don’t kick the ball!” at games, you know your style is being questioned.

    The Tahs have defended this on the basis of winning ugly is better than not winning. However, the Tahs aren’t even winning ugly. They’re winning ugly, sometimes. Further, the Reds showed that with the right personnel and coach a team can be turned around in a short time and can play attractive winning rugby.

    NSW, with supposedly the best players and resources at its disposal, hasn’t played attractive rugby for a few years now (Ewen was and is a “pragmatic” coach, and up until 2008 he was actually winning ugly so we didn’t mind as much).

    Someone on The Roar recently commented that Tahs fans are never happy, and we whinge even when we’re winning in that we aren’t playing the “style” we want. That caused me to think whether this was the case.

    In fact, I think Tahs’ fans are quite reasonable in their expectations. We want to be the best Australian team year after year, and to be capable of playing both running and winning rugby.

    Essentially, we want to be the Crusaders of Australia. And if they can do it, why can’t we? And even if we were to cut out the running rugby bit, why can’t we be the Bulls of Australian rugby? That is, playing a 10-man style but smashing everyone with it (at least until this year).

    Instead, Tahs’ fans are in many ways the long suffering mob of the comp (or at least the Aussie bit). Huge potential, never winning. Sorry people, but we aren’t rugby league’s North Sydney Bears – we’re not going to sit patiently for decades while we watch season after season get wasted.
    In fact, the Tahs have a pretty good team at the moment. But as Simon Poidevin, a former NSW and Australian great, wrote in an article in Saturday’s Herald, pulling on a sky blue jersey at the moment seems to involve removing that part of your rugby brain that enables you to play exciting rugby.

    We want to see two things: winning and entertaining rugby. If we don’t get the first, the second can often be a sop, especially if it was close.

    I suspect many Tahs fans could cope with a team that wasn’t finishing as highly each season if they played more attractive rugby, and held the promise of next year being the year they kicked on to win playing that way (like the Reds had at the end of last year).

    Unfortunately, Tahs fans watch this season not liking what they see, and wondering how and why next year is likely to be any better.

    Even when we win this year, we think to ourselves, “Is this really going to be enough to beat the Reds and Crusaders of the comp, if we somehow manage to scrape into the semis?”

    4. Where’s the passion?

    However, the final question is that of passion. And that the Tahs team this year, and often in the past, has seemed not to have the requisite passion. Everything we hear from interviews and “insider” sources says they do. But again perception becomes reality, and it doesn’t look like they are running onto the field ready to die for the jersey which is essentially what every sports fan wants to see (and which many other teams in the comp show).

    This was part of why the Tahs got booed after winning against the Cheetahs, they seemed to have given up on themselves and the game.

    The galling thing is it is possible to see some players playing with both the skill and the passion that wins games. Phil Waugh (even with the criticism levelled at him on The Roar in certain regards) plays his guts out every game, even with bits dropping off.

    Drew Mitchell also is one of the players that was before his unfortunate injury regarded as a player who could hold his head up as having put in every game (and he’s a bloody ex-Queenslander and Force player!).

    But when rumours circulate that players have criticised others for not showing enough ticker, or applied the nickname of “Harvey” (for Harvey Norman – no interest) to a teammate, what the fans see on the field begins to be borne out.

    Ultimately we want to see 15 blokes busting their guts on the field for their team, just like we’d like to think we’d be doing if the dream of being a professional rugby player had ever descended on our now flabby and former subbies playing carcasses. And when we don’t get it, and we lose, we start to ask where are the blokes that will play that way.

    Short answer is they’re called Beau Robinson and now playing for the Reds, but don’t start me on that particular beef of mine…

    So there’s a few starter questions to stick in your old kit bag and take along on Thursday.

    My final thought is a Chinese curse, that you get what you wish for. If the fans that turn up are provided a chance to say what they think, I expect they will give the Tahs what they want – being a whole lot of detailed feedback (and that won’t be the members’ packs didn’t have a cap in them this year).

    The problem is that they are likely to point to the administrators, the coach and the players in turn, raising uncomfortable questions of each of them.

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