Will the Waratahs make positive or negative changes?
Tom Carter in action for the NSW Waratahs. AAP Image/David Crosling
Where to now for the Waratahs? Two early losses sees them in eighth spot and staring down the barrel of a tough season.
Their next matches are against the Force, Sharks and Chiefs. The first two are at home and the last is looming against a side playing well in Hamilton.
The key for the Waratahs is that they have to be positive. One loss came about giving up a 70-metre try after the hooter. We could dwell on kicking away possession with thirty seconds on the clock but I think enough has been said about that night already.
The second loss was a one-point thriller against the form New Zealand team, in New Zealand. The Highlanders have now claimed the scalps of both the Crusaders and the Waratahs at Forsyth Barr and if they keep this up they’ll build a fortress reputation to replace their old House of Pain.
It would be quite easy for the Waratahs to focus on the negatives, dwell on their errors and feel sorry for themselves. Bernard Foley pointed at a failure in skills after the weekend. Many of us fans have looked at the injury list and groaned.
To focus on the negatives and think that they are the only team suffering would be a mistake. They need to look at their positives and select a few key areas to improve in.
The front row are scrummaging superbly and should be stronger if they swap the returning Sitaleki Timani in for Dean Mumm.
Their playmaker Berrick Barnes has a game under his belt and needs to be given the number 10 shirt. A centre pairing of Rob Horne and Adam Ashely-Cooper outside him should be given a try sooner rather than later. I assume that Daniel Halangahu was mainly kept on to rest Barnes’ injured groin from kicking duties; is Foley a kicker who could take over that role?
If the above changes occur the vacated wing spot would seem most likely to be filled by Brackin Karauria-Henry or Nathan Trist, at least until Atieli Pakalani and Drew Mitchell return.
On the weekend, my take was that the Waratahs kicked possession away because they had greater faith in their defence than they did in their ability to take the ball into contact and retain it. The whole team collectively need to be better and more committed at the breakdown so that they can use the ball with confidence.
In particular I’d like to see Sitaleki Timani and Kane Douglas start punishing opponents with their cleanouts. They are both over 120kgs and need to bring some menace into the Waratahs pack, which is missing enforcers in Wycliff Palu and Dan Vickerman. There is no point whining about the missing players; the young guys are big enough and now have to show they can be good enough.
They won’t be able to do it alone. The whole team – in particular the all-Wallaby front row and international outside backs Horne and Ashley Cooper – needs to take the lead and bring their teammates with them. Yes, that’s right folks; it isn’t just forwards who are expected to hit the breakdown these days. The backs need to lift in that department too.
The young guys getting opportunities in the absence of others has been encouraging with Jono Jenkins, Dave Dennis, Lopeti Timani, Tom Kingston and Bernard Foley in particular making some strong contributions.
The Force have underperformed so far this year. If the Waratahs play to their potential they should record a victory, they cannot afford to take the Force lightly though.
The Sharks will be a tough side. They were desperately unlucky not to win at the Sydney Football Stadium a couple of seasons ago and probably have that memory tucked away somewhere for motivation. The Waratahs will have had two weeks in their beds, while the Sharks will have just made the long flight from South Africa. The Waratahs will have to play well but cannot ask for more of a leg up than that.
Finally the Chiefs loom. After an initial tight loss to the Highlanders they have claimed the scalps of the Crusaders and Blues, on the back of a much improved forward pack to match their backline which, if anything, is even more dynamic than usual.
Sona Taumalolo has brought great form home from the World Cup and the addition of 20-year old, 138-kilogram Ben Tameifuna has helped turn their scrum into a weapon. The scrummaging form of Benn Robinson, Tatafu Polota-Nau and Sekope Kepu will meet its sternest test so far this season, as will the defence of whichever centre pairing takes the park.
All in all these next three weeks will show us the character of the 2012 Waratahs; can they get their season on track?
Will they do it by fixing their flaws which only get exposed by the top sides? Or will they continue with game plans that work against the weaker teams in the hope that they can scrape into the semis?
Here is hoping they make some positive changes.