Under fire Foley is on borrowed time
Michael Foley. AAP Images
Retaining Michael Foley as Waratahs coach for next season is as baffling as Greg Smith being named Wallaby coach in 1996 over odds-on favourite John Connolly, who was a victim of the pathetic, but intense, NSW-Queensland rivalry at the time.
NSW had the numbers on the ARU to get Smith home by a whisker. In all fairness Smith did a pretty fair job with 12 wins from 19 internationals for a 63% return.
But when the Waratahs are beaten tomorrow night by the Reds at Suncorp, Foley’s debut season in charge will be 33%, with just four wins, and 12 losses – the last eight on the trot. The latter two are both unwanted franchise records.
The Waratahs Board has shown Foley some sympathy after a season of horrendous injuries, which have been Foley’s only saving grace.
But think back to this time last season when Chris Hickey was coach. He too had a massive injury list, yet still made the semis only to be beaten 25-6 by the Stormers.
In fact, despite the fact so many never gave Hickey any credit, he did very well in his three seasons, reaching the semis twice, and just missing out in his debut season in 2009 by finishing equal fourth on the ladder with the Crusaders, but losing out on percentages for the final spot.
Foley would kill for those stats. But the Waratahs’ problems are a lot deeper than cold W’s and L’s.
Team culture, or more accurately the lack of it, is the most obvious. Over the years every player eligible would kill to don the famous light blue jersey, and perform accordingly.
This season most of the Waratahs have played much better in gold than blue, one of the major reasons why the Wallabies beat Wales 3-zip. While the same players, except David Dennis, couldn’t beat time in blue.
The second problem is the lack of an inspirational captain. The Waratahs punted Ben Mowen at the end of last season, who has since become an outstanding skipper for the Brumbies, and high on the list of reasons why the Canberra-based franchise will probably top the Australian Conference table.
Daniel Halangahu, and Benn Robinson, aren’t the captaincy answer. It’s time to call on Berrick Barnes, or Adam Ashley-Cooper, to fill the role, providing the latter doesn’t spend much time far away from the action at fullback.
The third problem is far more complex – the support staff.
There’s something radically wrong within that vital group when Chris Webb, a dyed-in-the-wool Waratah to the marrow of his bones, has seen fit to walk away after five years as the team’s superb manager.
Alan Gaffney is Foley’s senior assistant coach, Scott Bowen’s the assistant coach, and Greg Mumm, the coaching co-ordinator. Far too many chiefs, and not enough Indians.
Don’t be surprised if Gaffney, with two myrtle green eyes, is back coaching Randwick first grade next year replacing John Maxwell. Maxwell is having an even worse season than Foley, lying on the bottom of the Shute Shield table with just one win from 11 starts. This is the Galloping Greens’ worst season its stellar 130-year history, with nine Wallaby captains, 93 Wallabies and 28 premierships.
Gaffney going of his own volition would promote Bowen to senior assistant coach. To be more precise, Foley to coach the forwards, Bowen the backs.
Where Mumm fits into that tighter unit is cloudy.
But however they deploy their talents, one thing is for certain: injuries, or no injuries, Michael Foley will have to fire from the get-go next season, or he will cop an early shower and spend the rest of the winter watching the Waratahs from his lounge room.