You can’t complain about a side that scores 11 tries, most of them from flowing interplay between backs and forwards. So full credit to the NSW Waratahs for finally getting their act together and playing the sort of rugby that would have made the Waratahs of 1928/29 proud of them.
The Waratahs of 80 years ago prided themselves on never kicking, a tactic they picked up from the wonderful 1919AIF side that toured Australia to bring back rugby back to the nation after the game, at the senior level, had been closed down during the First World War.
When Gary Pearse, as CEO of NSW Rugby, attempted to revive the state team now more than 20 years ago he deliberately re-branded it as the NSW Waratahs. The hope was that this homage to that wonderful side of 80 years ago would inspire the modern equivalent.
It’s taken all the games in the 2010 tournament so far (except for a brilliant 40 minutes against the Bulls) for the Waratahs to live up to the traditions of their name.
There were a couple of needless kicks early on (Lachlan Turner just run, don’t needlessly boot the ball away!) But then the running game started to be rolled out. The big forwards were rampant and Drew Mitchell was direct and lethal with his finishing.
Of course, the Lions don’t seem to regard defence as part of the rugby game. They are a side that is robust with the ball in hand. But on defence they don’t seem to have patterns or systems, or even a willingness to stop attacks once they are flowing towards them.
And dare it be said, they were not playing with a South African referee. Vinny Munro, the excellent New Zealand referee, handled the game with a fine understanding of the ebb and flow of the game, and a correctly tough approach to interference of the ball in the rucks and mauls.
When Carlos Spencer got stroppy about a ruling Munro put him in his place and suggested that he’d march the Lions back 10m at a time, back to the try line, if he continued the arguing.
Waratahs were more intelligent at the breakdown, too, than in the past. If the ball is correctly taken in and support it well, then the best thing to do is concede the ruck and wait for a mistake. This was done and we didn’t see Phil Waugh conceding penalties (or in danger of conceding if the referee was on to him) as in previous games.
I was taken to task by a reader of The Roar for suggesting a couple of matches ago (when he was bizarrely, in my opinion awarded Man of the Match) that Luke Burgess should be dropped. This match confirmed this opinion. It was noticeable how much lift the Waratahs attack got when Josh Holmes was running the play.
It’s time, too, to drop Tom Carter, a favourite of coach Chris Hickey who re-signed him last week for a couple more seasons. Carter was caught from behind in one dash to the line. His passing is ponderous and when Rob Horne came on at centre he gave the back attack a sharpness that has been lacking this season.
The Waratahs match against the ACT Brumbies in a couple of weeks time is shaping up to be a cracker. I thought the Brumbies were strong, physically and mentally, against the Sharks. They gave up too many penalties, which kept the Sharks in the game. But their attack looked good, especially when Matt Giteau took the ball to the line.
My main complaint about the Brumbies is that Josh Valentine tends to force his number 10 to stand deep in the pocket with the angle of his passes. He needs to pass flatter to give a strong backline (although Stirling Mortlock looked a shadow of his former powerful self) a chance.
The Brumbies in fact have played well all season. Their loss to the Bulls came after they were leading at half-time and then (they claim) conceded seven successive penalties.
This brings us to the issue of the refereeing. There were no complaints this round from any of the teams that had neutral referees. And this is as it should be.
Although John Smit won the quip of the round when a touch judge decision went against his team. ”Did Marks make the call?’ he asked.
Old captains are like old elephants in that they never forget. Smit plays at the pace of an old elephant these days, as well
Back to the Waratahs. It is one thing to be adventurous against the Lions, a team that has won only a handful of games in Australia in Super Rugby.
Now they have to start playing running rugby against stronger teams, starting with the Western Force next week. So have the Waratahs kicked the kicking habit?
So far, so good is all that can be said for now.