Foley must go as Waratahs coach
The Waratahs board is being reported as endorsing Michael Foley to remain as coach next year. However, the bulk of the Waratahs faithful have already voted with their feet and stopped attending games.
How else can a Waratahs fan let the board know they are not satisfied with what is happening?
Foley met the board last week to conduct the season review, despite having two matches left to play. I don’t mind the timing of the meeting, these last matches are irrelevant to the season since the Waratahs cannot make the Super Rugby finals.
I want the Waratahs to perform well in these two matches, facing the Brumbies in Sydney and the Reds in Brisbane. Good results in these two games should not save a coach who has shown himself to be hopelessly out of his depth.
Apparently the core message from Foley to the board was that if he did not return next year it would be a case of leaving business unfinished. The injuries that the Waratahs suffered were mentioned as was tough scheduling.
Let’s look at this for a minute. Foley has been part of the coaching team at the Waratahs since 2009, although he only became head coach this year. Throughout this period the Waratahs have based their game plan around kicking. This over use of kicking has turned the fans off in droves.
Further, the plan has been poorly executed: both the kicks themselves and the lack of chase. Foley announced pre-season that the kicking game would be tweaked this year to make the kicks more attacking and stressed they would be contestable. However, there has been nothing different from the way the team have kicked this year.
Perhaps the exception was the match against the Stormers where the South African commentators noted that Berrick Barnes seemed to be attempting set a world record for kicking the ball away.
Kicking will always be part of rugby but the Waratahs kick too much and too poorly.
During Foley’s tenure at the Waratahs we have seen a transformation of the forward pack, they are getting bigger and bigger. Their strength is undoubted and their scrum is the strongest in the competition this year. However the fitness of the team and the ability of the pack to get around the park for 80 minutes is not good enough.
The match against the Brumbies down at Bruce really showed the ineffectiveness of the Waratahs pack in the critical period before half time. The number of close losses that the Waratahs have suffered this year also points to an inability to close out matches late. The ability to play an up tempo game is beyond this pack with their current levels of conditioning.
I could almost forgive the lack of fitness in the forwards if they had an incredibly strong mauling game to match their scrum. Having an offensive mauling game would suck opposition forwards in and create space for the backs. Unfortunately the Waratahs are poor maulers – both with and without the ball. So beyond scrummaging, what are all the hours in the gym rather than on the track gaining the Waratahs?
I have neither seen nor heard anything from Foley to indicate that the poor kicking or lack of fitness in the forwards will be addressed, so I’m not sure what the unfinished business that Foley cites is.
Injuries have severely disrupted or ended the seasons of Dan Vickerman, Rocky Elsom, Drew Mitchell, Lachie Turner, Pat McCutcheon and Damian Fitzpatrick. There are four internationals in that lot. However the Waratahs had nine representatives in the recent Wallabies side that defeated Wales. Benn Robinson, Tatafu Polot-Nau, Sekope Kepu, Sitaleki Timani, Dave Dennis, Wycliff Palu, Berrick Barnes, Rob Horne and Adam Ashley-Cooper all made the Australian team.
Some of those players, most notably Barnes, showed a huge improvement in form when they stepped up to the international level. The question has to be asked of Foley as to why he hasn’t been able to coax similar performances out of these troops at Super level. I don’t think you get to complain about injuries cruelling your season when two thirds of your starting side are internationals.
Finally, Foley cites a tough schedule as a reason for poor performance? The Waratahs had a fantastic schedule this year. The byes came at excellent points of the season.
The first was in round six following a period where the Waratahs had got their New Zealand trips out of the way and had three home games and a walk up against the Rebels to get their season going.
The second bye is this weekend which gives the international players a break after three tough weeks.
The tough games that you look for at the start of every season fell relatively favourably. The Crusaders and Bulls who are always tough games were at home for the Waratahs with their toughest away match being the Stormers.
In hindsight, the Highlanders early in the season at Forsyth Barr and the Chiefs in Hamilton were tough games but I don’t think there is anything in the draw to suggest the Waratahs were comparatively hard done by.
Foley does have a point that the two teams NSW don’t play, the Lions and the Blues, have disappointed this year but before the season started avoiding the Blues seemed like a good thing.
If Foley had stepped up and admitted some failings such as the poor mauling, the lack of fitness and the poor kicking and chasing, and then indicated that he had a plan to fix them, I might not be as depressed as the recent announcement has made me.
Right this minute I am hoping that the board endorsement is the classic Machiavellian statement of support that comes before a sacking. Most reports seem to indicate that Michael Chieka has firmed as the favourite for the Force job, my preference for the Waratahs remains Scott Johnson but there are other coaches out there and available.
What is a fan to do? Do I just have to grit my teeth and bear it? The crowds have turned their backs and sponsorship will be the next thing to go. What will it take to ensure this board makes a positive change?
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