Gibson and the Waratahs could be a perfect match, but it’s too early to judge

Dan Vickerman Columnist

By , Dan Vickerman is a Roar Expert

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    Maybe things for Aussie Super Rugby aren't bad, they're just really, really good for New Zealand. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

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    Why, when there is a changing of the guard, do you see teams take some time to rebuild or adapt to a supposed new style?

    It’s a hard question to answer, but as is so often is the case, success does not continue in perpetuity. The once invincible Crusaders, whilst always a force in the competition, have taken time to adjust to a new era. The Bulls, the Brumbies, the Reds, the Chiefs, Tahs and the Highlanders more recently are all championship sides, but change one piece of the puzzle and the results differ wildy.

    The focus for this piece will be the Waratahs, but I will be honest; I have a monumental bias towards them, so forgive me if my opinion is skewed.

    The key factor which shifts momentum or group dynamics is how change is managed, or more importantly how the man management of the coach differs. Each coach will have their style, which takes time to implement from a management perspective and adapt to from a playing point of view.

    Little gets mentioned about the Lions from the South African conference. They have long been under achievers, and whilst not a genuine title contender, what has the Johann Ackerman done to that group that makes them a threat to any opponent they play? I believe he has instilled a confidence to try things and play with belief.

    This is their culture, their way.

    I am unsure how much was said about the time it took their squad to get to where they are today, but the group is not vastly from that which John Mitchell had. I stand to be corrected!

    What is different, though, is that the coaching team has now been able to, possibly with the players input, identify a style that resonates with the group. Put it down to good management. I believe they are a better side now than they were last year, and this is the coach’s third year in charge.

    My view is that the foundations were set in year one, refined in year two and it seems to have now sunk in. I think that should this team of both management and players stay together for another year or two, they could be genuine final series contenders.

    This is why consistency is so important. Mark my words, should the Springboks poach Johann Ackerman, you will see a very different Lions team run onto the field in the next few years, and not for the better!

    Focusing on the Tahs, I believe that General Gibson has his plan in place. He is building and working on his own unique style of man management which is different to 2014, but importantly he has troops that are able and willing.

    Change takes time, but one thing that does not change is the want to radiate a winning ethos and always playing for one another. Let’s not forget that the 2014 championship side took a year of building prior to hoisting the trophy high above their heads.

    There has also been a rotation of hardened warriors and a blooding of a new generation who give their utmost at the front line weekly.

    New management tacticians, with the stability of a lead-from-the-front defensive guru are starting to make their mark. Glimpses of what they are trying to achieve we witnessed at fortress Newlands on the weekend.

    Why this transition takes so much time is not always clear. Very often, the same troops are there and nothing much has changed, but the results turn from success to consistently poor. A good example is the Brumbies in the late 90s and early 2000s.

    The roll over from Rod Macqueen to Jones to Nucifora did not provide year-on-year success, but yet they managed titles in 2001 and 2004, which cannot be deemed unsuccessful.

    Very rarely does a change in coach after a championship year result in achieving the holy grail of a double premiership.

    Stability is key in all of this. The vision, the strategy and most importantly aligning your warriors with the culture of what you are trying to achieve does not occur overnight. Multiple title winners, the Bulls and Crusaders, had the same generals and troops in place for numerous years, so the continuity was there, the culture was built and crucially maintained.

    A winning culture, or more importantly a culture of knowing what success means, was fostered by both the players and coaches.

    The level of attrition in the game is as gruelling as ever, coupled with the addition of new teams, changes in bonus point structures and consistently increasing travel schedules. These all take time to adjust to.

    A physical game, a sound set-piece allowing width from all areas of the field and power runners with the ability to bend the line sounds simple to achieve. This is where the Waratahs are going – it’s not rocket science I know, but rugby is a simple game.

    It is not dissimilar to what they did in 2014, but now with a few different leaders, and it is their job to make the culture flow through the group like osmosis daily. Although the Waratahs have a way to go on their set piece and consistency pertinent to physicality, glimpses of this are there. It only takes a spark to ignite a fire.

    Basics done well or a strategy well executed on a consistent basis is very hard to beat in Super Rugby. For example, many a man has stated that defence wins matches. This can be true, but for me, the mindset is crucial.

    Not only is it about making the actual tackle, but also in the intent.

    What was so different about the Waratahs on the weekend from weeks gone by?

    In my opinion, the key was the consistency of the work being done. The ferocity of the counter rucking, the line speed and the sting in the tackle was there in abundance.

    What a difference that made! The Waratahs were resilient; the Stormers scored, but they came back. The injured and tired got back up time and time again. Now this is what successful teams are looking to achieve on a weekly basis.

    One good performance means nothing now, but it shows us all what is achievable when things are done correctly and with intent.

    Why have the basics such as set piece and handling let the troops down at times? I do not have the answer, but I can assure you that it is not due to lack of effort. Pressure is not only what an opponent puts on one, it also comes from within!

    Try too hard and what would normally be a simple basic skill done a thousand times on the training field becomes a recurring error.

    The beauty about rugby is that you only have to wait a week to rectify things. Some recent evidence of this is what we witnessed against the Stormers. Sublime backline work against the Stormers came when a solid foundation was laid, quick ball provided and the 13, Israel Folau, went straight through. Bang – seven points as easy as that!

    So give the generals some time. Years two and three is where you can truly look at a squad and organisation and start critically judging.

    It is then that the recruitment strategy has been tried and tested, culture implemented and lived and the true colours of an organisation consistently displayed, from top to bottom. Whilst this is hard at times to accept – patience is required. I have no doubt that the management team has their vision in place, they know where they are going and they will achieve it.

    Once this timeline has run its course, then feel free to judge not only my opinion but also those who have been at the coalface doing their work, the way they know.

    Dan Vickerman
    Dan Vickerman

    Dan Vickerman played 78 Super Rugby games for the Brumbies and Waratahs and 63 for the Wallabies as a lock between 2002 and 2011.

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