What is the real Waratahs playing style?

Andrew Logan Columnist

By Andrew Logan, Andrew Logan is a Roar Expert

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31 Have your say

    After watching the Waratahs last week, I was forced to check my tea for random hallucinogens that might have drifted in on the wind or something. What the…?

    The Tahs were all of a sudden carrying on like genuine title contenders, and although it was a welcome form reversal, the big question remained: can they deliver the same performance two weeks in a row?

    They lost against the Bulls, of course, but the game that they laid out was by far their most positive and enterprising for the last dozen or so matches, and one which would have beaten any other team in the competition.

    Among the positives was their willingness to play on quickly from both phases and free kicks, as well as their appetite for contact. The Waratah forwards clearly relished the physical exchanges, and surprised the Bulls, who traditionally dominate the breakdown area with a brand of animal confrontation reminiscent of their namesake in a china shop.

    The most surprising development was the rebirth of halfback Luke Burgess, who revived the flickering embers of his rapidly fading Wallaby career by taking a few lessons from his usurper. Will Genia’s stock-in-trade is the judicious snipe, combined with the laserish shift from the ruck to 10-plus-one.

    Burgess, who was previously reduced to “standing over the ball like an emperor penguin” (to quote another canny columnist), suddenly realised that the action wasn’t in the post/10 channel, but in the 10-12 channel, particularly against the Bulls who salivate over dumb bullocks charging blindly into the close contact.

    By shifting the point of contact to the middle of the field, he allowed his runners to bend the line and occasionally get in behind it, forcing the Bulls forwards to turn and chase.

    In terms of their recent below-par efforts, it was a staggering and welcome change for the Waratahs and their aggrieved fan base.

    However, the pressing question is exaggerated rather than quelled by the turnaround, and that question is “What exactly is the Waratah style?”

    This might be paraphrased as “How exactly are they trying to play?”, or even “What is Chris Hickey’s preferred style?”

    But no matter, all three questions are equally difficult to answer.

    Hickey is the rugby equivalent of John Key*. You know he has an importantish job and he appears in the papers occasionally, but as for what he stands for or where he’s going – one is never quite sure. To the layperson, at least, his philosophy remains clouded and his methods unclear.

    Contrast the Waratahs of 09/10 with the Bulls, or the Hurricanes, or the Chiefs.

    You know the Bulls will play for territory, and use their forward-dominance to set up for close range tries and field goals. The Hurricanes will punch up the 12 channel and try to break the line, supported by a large and angry back row. The Chiefs love to counter, play wide to their back three, and when the opposition are stretched, get Brendon Leonard to slice them up close in.

    And they all do it so well, that even though you roughly know what they’re going to do, it’s still pretty hard to defend against because when they play to their preferred plan, they control the flow of the match.

    But with the Waratahs? Who knows?

    It would be great if it was last week’s version where they played the Bulls at their own game – a physical, uncompromising brand of rugby, punctuated by flashes of brilliance and only occasionally brittle defence.

    But you could perhaps argue that the true Waratahs style is a sort of bastardized Force/Bulls cross, which utilises a lightish forward pack to play field position with a conservative general such as Halangahu or Barnes.

    Or is it a tryhard Brumbies model, where the forwards run like backs, but minus the try scoring?

    I still can’t put my finger on it and it’s frustrating, because the Waratahs have so much depth.

    They have 3 of the top 6 or 7 flyhalves in the country in Daniel Halangahu, Berrick Barnes and Kurtley Beale, and a thousand or so possible backline combinations. Halangahu, Beale, Drew Mitchell and Sosene Anesi could all play fullback, for example. Barnes, Tom Carter, Beale, Josh Holmes and Halangahu could all play 12.

    It’s in the second row where the real selection conundrums begin. Imagine sitting down and trying to work out your most effective combination from Dean Mumm, Will Caldwell, Kane Douglas, Dave Dennis, Cam Jowitt, Hendrik Roodt and Chris Thompson.

    And then who should go to the blindside flank? Mumm, Dennis, Ben Mowen, Jowitt, Ben Coridas or Chris Alcock?

    Too much depth can be confusing, and until the Waratahs can settle on a specialist lineup which works to a distinct game plan, it will continue to lurch from good game, to not-so-good game.

    They risk becoming a team of generalists, rather than utilising their depth to develop true specialists in each position. Developing specialists shouldn’t be a problem. After all, it’s not like they’re being forced to utilise players in unfamiliar positions due to lack of depth.

    So which comes first? A solid game plan, or a team that can play to it?

    There’s not much point in building a you-beaut strategy if you don’t have the players to carry it out. But with the Tahs, you’ve got pretty much got the men to carry out whatever plan you might be able to dream up.

    And therein lieth the problem. Are we playing field position? Taking them on in the pigs and then going wide? Counter attacking? Sniping around the fringes? All of the above? Something else? The Waratahs could potentially do any or all or none of it on a given day.

    With luck, last week is the beginning of a clear direction.

    Andrew Logan
    Andrew Logan

    Andrew Logan has played rugby for over 25 years. A contributor to The Roar since its inception, he also writes for Inside Rugby magazine, and Super Rugby and international match day programs. A regular panellist on ABC Grandstand discussing rugby and other sports, Andrew has appeared on ABC's The Drum and also Sky Sportsline. He has convened and managed several touring sides including the Australian Rugby Sevens team on the IRB circuit, and the Australian Barbarians XV.

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    The Crowd Says (31)

    • March 5th 2010 @ 5:24am
      sportym said | March 5th 2010 @ 5:24am | ! Report

      Andrew, I’d really be intereting where you would place Daniel Halangahu and and Kurtley Beale ranking wise when you say they are in the top 7 10s in the country. Looking at the teams, Brumbies have 3 (gits, toomua and christian), reds 1 and tahs 3. Personally i think beale struggles at 10 and halangahu has yet to deliver.

      As for the Tahs playing style, I think it back to the same old this week. Looking at the last 3 games the bulls have played, they have allowed the opposition to score alot of points, they just score more. I believe last week’s tahs performance was not thier brilliance and willingness to run the ball, but the fact that the Bulls allowed them to.

    • March 5th 2010 @ 5:29am
      Rockin Rod said | March 5th 2010 @ 5:29am | ! Report

      So much depth, its outstanding and what you need. I bet the Force and Reds would love this problem.
      Who would you put to 7 if Waugh was injured for a few weeks? Chris Alcock seems to be the best next 7 and if the same thing happened where Palu was to miss a few weeks, McCaffrey seems to be the only specialist number 8. It seems Tahs have a wealth of riches in lock/6 position but not 7 and 8??? Your thoughts

      • March 5th 2010 @ 9:08am
        Andrew Logan said | March 5th 2010 @ 9:08am | ! Report

        Hi Rod,

        I tend to agree with your assessment. By the way, I’m not arguing against depth, just against shuffling everyone all over the place because you have depth.

        Having so many players on your roster in key positions puts pressure on you to retain them, and how do you retain them? Give them game time.

        The temptation is to keep trying new combos because you can, and I think this is teh root of the Waratahs problems, because it excuses coaches from having to coach.

        Quade Cooper is a good example. Because he was at the Reds last year and they had no other option but to play him alongside Barnes, they were forced to make him into a better player through perseverance. Had he been at the Waratahs, no doubt they would have just dropped him and tried someone else….because they could.

        This is my point – that having so many players makes it easy to just keep trying new things, rather than developing players and settling into a style.

        • March 5th 2010 @ 12:44pm
          Rockin Rod said | March 5th 2010 @ 12:44pm | ! Report

          Thanks Andrew. I think you have hit the nail on the head.
          Rumours Melb were close to signing their Sydney Uni boys Hangas and Dennis because of the ex uni coach and now both are starting at NSW. Why would you now go. If KB was off contract i am sure they would find a starting spot for him.

          • March 5th 2010 @ 1:13pm
            JK said | March 5th 2010 @ 1:13pm | ! Report

            I thought Dennis just re-signed after the spring tour, force were interested

    • March 5th 2010 @ 7:13am
      The Crow said | March 5th 2010 @ 7:13am | ! Report

      enjoyed your article again as always but I will be really surprised if NSW can continue to play the style of Rugby they displayed last Sunday Morning against the Bulls.Recent History shows that they will quickly revert to their dull, driving style of play which has scared away some of their supporters in recent years.
      I believe they adopted their attacking style the other night only because it was the Bulls and whilst there is nothing wrong with trying to catch the enemy unaware do you really think the Sharks will be preparing for an attacking blitz from the Waratahs this Saturday Night, I hope I’m wrong but I don’t think they will be .

      As you outlined in your Article the Bulls, Crusaders and the Brumbies have a winning philosophy but the most important thing they all have is a consistent culture which their supporters love and their opposition fear. E.g The Bulls- ferocious forwards, strong running Backs and never give up over 80 minutes, The Crusaders- Magnificent defenders, strong forwards and a counter attacking culture that is second to none in Super Rugby, Finally the Brumbies- play a lot of heart in your mouth football, like to score tries on limited phases of possession and when they play at home they run as straight and hard as just about any other team I have ever seen play Rugby.

      By the way Spiro even the Reds have developed an attacking style of play culture in recent years which is refreshing to say the least, I think McKenzie has bowed to the fact that Genia and Cooper cannot be harnessed and he is better off developing a game plan based around this deadly duo at present.

      the NSW Waratahs are struggling for a culture, it seems that the Brumbies and the Crusaders have carried on the culture set up by Rod MacQueen and Robbie Deans but alas the Waratahs have failed to have a reputation for anything other than conservative and sometimes Negative Rugby.Maybe it is time for coach Hickie to keep the “jeannie out of the Bottle” after last week’s display against the Bulls and revert back to the traditional running style of Rugby played by the original Waratahs including I think the likes of Cyril Towers someone Meagher and other identities whom I sure you know who I am referring to.

      On another note I don’t think the Brumbies can win the Comp this year because they still lack a bit of mongrel but with 7 of their next 10 games at Home they can play a part in the Finals if injuries don’t interfere.Having watched their first 3 games closely this year I have this gut feeling that they are going to click one night at Canberra Stadium and make a mess of their opposition, if all the passes stick and the bounce of the ball is on their side they will hammer either a Lions, Sharks, Cheetahs or Highlanders outfit and if it is against either The Chiefs or Wellington they will record an impressive victory.

      They (the Brumbies) are our best chance of making the Finals and the Waratahs, Reds & Force have a lot of work to do.

      I have enjoyed most of the games so far this year and the Referees need to be applauded on their stance so far with the tackle area, offside players advancing in front of the kicker and Scrum resets

      • March 5th 2010 @ 7:50am
        Andrew Logan said | March 5th 2010 @ 7:50am | ! Report

        In the words of the great Mick Jagger…”Please allow me to introduce myself…”

      • Roar Guru

        March 5th 2010 @ 8:46am
        Bay35Pablo said | March 5th 2010 @ 8:46am | ! Report

        “Spiro, who is this Spiro you talk of …?” 🙂

      • March 5th 2010 @ 10:41am
        PastHisBest said | March 5th 2010 @ 10:41am | ! Report

        Come on Loges, you know you channel Spiro in your more enlightened articles. 🙂

        • March 5th 2010 @ 10:47am
          Andrew Logan said | March 5th 2010 @ 10:47am | ! Report

          Hey, I’m taking it as a compliment!

    • March 5th 2010 @ 7:16am
      Big Steve said | March 5th 2010 @ 7:16am | ! Report

      It appears Hickey has no idea what the answer to this question is. So the players dont know the answer. How are we suppossed to work it out. I would say the playing style is, try not to loose but if we loose try to keep it close so we can say we were in with a chance the whole game but just could not execute the way we wanted.

    • March 5th 2010 @ 7:41am
      Onceinawhile said | March 5th 2010 @ 7:41am | ! Report

      I can’t get past the fact that with Burgess playing with more urgency and tempo against the Bulls, the rest of the team followed suit, I know it’s more complicated than that, but geez it helps.

      • March 5th 2010 @ 1:27pm
        Hawko said | March 5th 2010 @ 1:27pm | ! Report

        Its one very big brick in the wall!

    • March 5th 2010 @ 7:49am
      Chris said | March 5th 2010 @ 7:49am | ! Report

      Big deal – they scored 38 points against the 3rd worst defence in the competition. Scoring 6 tries in 3 matches isn’t much to write home about.

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