Oh boy, who can save the Waratahs now?
Waratahs captain Rocky Elsom. Photo AAP Images/Greg WOOD
My Waratahs need saving from themselves. The players are clearly not enjoying themselves, fans are turning their backs, the coaches are stressed and the board is making meaningless noises.
Many are calling for a clean out of the board, coaching staff and playing roster.
I’m not sure if the ARU review being undertaken by Peter Cosgrove and Mark Arbib covers the Super Rugby sides. Hopefully it does. We’ll see what these two come up with in regards to the corporate governance of the game in this country.
Certainly the split of the NSWRU and Waratahs boards isn’t working from an on-field success perspective. In the meantime the coaches and players are there in the spotlight enduring a searing scrutiny.
The coaching structure has failed and needs to be replaced. Scott Johnson is my preferred option. I liked the way Johnson’s Welsh team played and would like to see what he can do as the head coach with an Aussie side.
Michael Cheika is another candidate but I haven’t seen his sides play so I cannot offer an opinion. I also prefer Johnson as coach as I think backs make better head coaches. Their skill sets as players involves the use of space, use of the ball and the scoring of tries. Forwards ultimately have their key focus on the contest for possession.
When it comes to game management, ultimately the backs and particularly the halves have the greatest say. Giving the backs coach the largest say in defining playing style and having the forwards coach assist by supplying a pack to complement that style is the sensible way to go.
Whoever next year’s coach is, they should be allowed to choose their own assistants. If replaced, Michael Foley has offered to stay on as an assistant but I have my concerns about him as a forwards coach.
The Waratahs scrum is excellent, their line out is okay, their mauling is poor and their static, flat-footed pick, drive and ruck game is terrible. Mauling and getting momentum into the pick and drive are easily fixed – that Foley has not done this concerns me greatly.
The Waratahs had one maul on the weekend where they successfully changed their angle and had a strong five or six man pod, ball at the back and only one or two Hurricanes in front of them; the remaining Hurricanes forwards had been isolated off to the side due to the good change of angle.
Despite having a three to one man advantage in the maul at that point it did not move forward.
This tells me that the ‘Tahs forwards are slacking off in the maul and expecting their team mates to pick up the slack. The strength of their scrum indicates where their mauling should be. Technique, power and teamwork are key to both scrummaging and skills and if you are good at scrummaging you should be good at mauling.
There really is no excuse for the poor mauling, which the Waratahs have been guilty of all year. The Brumbies are a smaller pack and vastly superior at it. They clearly work on this aspect of their game, work for each other and most importantly work together.
The Waratahs, except for their scrummaging, do not appear to be a cohesive unit.
Clearly fitness is a big issue. The Waratahs did lots of good things on the weekend, after their early poor kicks they greatly reduced their use of this option. If the rugbyheaven stats are to be believed they only kicked 12 times to the Hurricanes 25.
The ‘Tahs were right in the game at the sixty minute mark and if they could have converted pressure to points then who knows what would have happened. Instead, they ran out of puff as they have all year and in the end were beaten badly.
There was a concerted effort under Chris Hickey to increase the size and power of this side, too often they got over powered by opponents, particularly the Bulls.
Unfortunately in building size they have lost aerobic capacity and it shows badly. The team fades very poorly in both halves and does not build enough points in the early periods to try and defend a lead.
I would have looked at this four week break in the season as a chance to build some fitness before the last two matches. However, with eleven players in the Wallabies squad, the key culprits wouldn’t be available and the rest should be released to Shute Shield and given a chance to clear their heads.
A lot of the weekend’s issues were matters of skill; the continued drop ball killed all momentum. Handling was not the only issue though; tactically the team struggled.
After making breaks, they resorted to their forward pod hit ups to try and barge over. Pretorius tried once to go wide when close to the try line and was unable to hit Barnes. All those blaming the forwards for Barnes not getting a drop goal chance against the Cheetahs might want to consider that Pretorius would have had to pass that ball.
The forwards and halves need to have a look at what happens when they get within five metres of the try line. Barnes no longer wants the ball, he tells Pretorius to organise forward hit ups and a slow, predictable, flat footed procession of forwards take turns punching into a set defensive line.
The methods used to successfully progress up the other 95 metres of the field are abandoned as they punch at the edges of the ruck.
Is this a hangover to the wasted chances in the matches against the Chiefs and Brumbies?
The message from the coaching staff after those losses was one of patience. This appears to have translated into conservatism on the rugby field. The first half of the Cheetahs game and the period from ten through sixty minutes of the Hurricanes game indicate that the Waratahs’ reliance on kicking is waning.
The forward rumbles where players receiving flat-footed and not running onto the ball with any momentum needs to change. It completely slows the game down, allows the defence to re-set and asks very few questions of any competent tackler. It was a problem last year and remains one this year.
In the back line, apart from momentary flashes they have disappointed. Bernard Foley must be given a chance in the 10 shirt. It doesn’t even require a change from the starting line up. Berrick Barnes can move to 12 and Adam Ashley-Cooper to 15.
Foley has been one of the most positive players in the Waratahs this year. Foley’s debut last year in a playoff against the Blues was at 10. Why hasn’t he been given another shot at it? Take some pressure off Barnes by moving him to the secondary play-maker’s spot. It is such a simple switch I cannot believe we haven’t seen it all season.
Finally, why with Drew Mitchell’s return have we not seen Atieli Pakalani on the bench? The last two weeks we have had Daniel Halangahu and Tom Carter, neither is able to come on and offer a spark late in a game.
At least Pakalani has pace. It makes no sense that he would be left out of the 22. If he is injured and then one of the other outside backs should be there instead.
The Waratahs have the personnel to perform much better than they are this season. Their game plan, fitness, lack of confidence and coaching are all conspiring against them.
There are two games left, they need to go away make a few of the simple changes discussed above and have a real go in their last matches.
There certainly isn’t anything left to lose.