Waratahs on the brink after worst-ever Super Rugby start

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    Force captain David Pocock, coach Richard Graham, and their charges are in the only Australian franchise that can feel well-pleased with week four of Super Rugby.

    Not renowned for winning close games, the Force upset the far more fancied Waratahs 21-20 at Allianz Stadium, the former Sydney Football Stadium, where the Waratahs have an impressive home record.

    But the three other Australian franchises fell by the wayside in the most extraordinary circumstances.

    The Queensland Reds, the reigning Super champions, blew a 17-nil lead against the Sharks at Durban to lose 27-22.

    Admittedly the Reds lost Mike Harris and Ben Lucas to hamstrings and Digby Ioane to a dangerous tackle, but Ewen McKenzie-coached teams don’t usually bomb a 17-point lead to lose.

    The Brumbies were squared away 22-22 on full-time with the Chiefs at Waikato Stadium, until Chief’s benchman Jackson Willison touched down on the final hooter, with Aaron Cruden added the extras to cement a 29-22 win.

    Same story with the Rebels. They were squared away 26-26 on full-time with the Cheetahs at AAMI Park, when Cheetahs benchman Piet Van Zyl finished off an 80m move after the final hooter – the 82nd minute to be precise – Johan Goosen slotted the conversion for a 33-26 victory.

    There’s a clear message there for four Australian franchises – turn up to play, and do so for 80 minutes. That’s endemic in New Zealand and South African sides.

    NSW has the most soul-searching to do. Apart from South African import Sarel Pretorius and centre Berrick Barnes trying to inspire his pedestrian team-mates in the second half, the Waratahs didn’t turn up to play.

    Have they no pride in pulling on the blue jersey emblazoned with the waratah?

    Officials are trumpeting the return of backrowers Wycliff Palu and Lopeti Timani next week to meet the upbeat Sharks at Allianz.

    Forget it, that’s only papering over the cracks. It’s the mindset that’s lacking, not the players.

    The Waratahs have the roster the make a genuine noise in this tournament. But not the large number of white-flaggers who ran onto Allianz last Saturday night.

    The Reds are a very different proposition, don’t write off them off too quickly, McKenzie will iron out the problems, and he has selection depth.

    “Despite the result, it was our best game of the season,” said McKenzie. In the first 25 minutes hooker James Hanson and backrower Scott Higginbotham crossed for tries as the Reds mounted constant pressure playing expansive rugby.

    Losing three attacking backs didn’t help the 80-minute cause, and the wake-up call will be heeded, McKenzie will see to that.

    So the Reds and Brumbies have suffered their first losses. Next week the Reds meet the Bulls at Loftus, the Brumbies clash with the Highlanders at Canberra Stadium.

    As they sit, both the Reds and Brumbies are on 13 points, with the Waratahs on 8, Rebels 6, and Force 5.

    The Rebels and Force clash on Friday night at AAMI Park. It’s a short turnaround for the Rebels who played such positive rugby against the Cheetahs, while the Force has the benefit of being on the road as a unit for the week, and are very bouyant after beating the Waratahs for the first time since they entered the Super tournament in 2006.

    Unless the Waratahs can find some bottle in a hurry, the men-in-blue could well be fourth in the Australian conference after week five, their season all but finished before it even started.

    David Lord
    David Lord

    David Lord was deeply involved in two of the biggest sporting stories - World Series Cricket in 1977 and professional rugby in 1983. After managing Jeff Thomson and Viv Richards during WSC, in 1983 David signed 208 of the best rugby players from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and France to play an international pro circuit. The concept didn?t get off the ground, but it did force the IRB to get cracking and bring in the World Rugby Cup, now one of the world?s great sporting spectacles

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    The Crowd Says (43)

    • March 19th 2012 @ 8:06am
      Justin said | March 19th 2012 @ 8:06am | ! Report

      David, how did the Force get the ball to score their second try? Berrick Barnes kicked it to them. Yes he tried but he also put in some woeful kicks and it is still his first instinct if numbers are even.

      He needs to go to 15, he has never been a consistent performer at 10 or 12. Cant get a backline going, cant beat a man with pace or power.

      • March 19th 2012 @ 8:52am
        johnny-boy said | March 19th 2012 @ 8:52am | ! Report

        Barnes would at the very least be better than Halanghu at 10 but yes fullback might now be his spot

        • March 19th 2012 @ 11:46am
          soapit said | March 19th 2012 @ 11:46am | ! Report

          or outside centre where you are never needed to be a kicking option.

          • March 19th 2012 @ 1:21pm
            Justin said | March 19th 2012 @ 1:21pm | ! Report

            But you need speed or power at 13, he has neither.

            • March 19th 2012 @ 3:08pm
              soapit said | March 19th 2012 @ 3:08pm | ! Report

              not so sure mate, conrad smith not really the biggest or the quickest. anyway as long as he gets the idea he’s a good tactician out of his head and just focuses on the run or pass option he’ll help nsw quite a bit.

        • Roar Guru

          March 19th 2012 @ 6:04pm
          B-Rock said | March 19th 2012 @ 6:04pm | ! Report

          BB is a 10 – a few average games do not warrant a move to 15 or 13 or the bench or anywhere else for that matter. It wasnt long ago the media and roarers were pining for BB at 10 for the WBs at the RWC as QC struggled. My two cents:

          1. How is Halangahu in the side let alone captain? He is borderline super rugby standard and should only be used in emergencies. How he has largely escaped criticism so far is beyond me. To be fair, his goal kicking has been good.

          2. Pretorious is not an effective team halfback. He has a dynamic running game but is not a great passer and doesnt run the team as well as many hoped. He is also a very poor defender.

          3. The forward pack has struggled against modest opposition to date. BB has seen little clean front foot ball to date so has had to scramble and resort to kicking under pressure. As we all know, mounting a strong ball in hand attack behind a beaten pack is difficult if not impossible. Any pack featuring Mumm, Jenkins, Metuisela and Dennis with reserve front rowers of Ulugia and Ryan is going to struggle at this level.

          BB must move to 10, Halangahu to the bench or out of the side, Horne to 12 and Carter to 13. I dont understand the persistence with Halangahu, he is not going to improve from here, he is who he is at this stage of this career. The biggest issue for the Tahs is the lack of depth across the side following the off-season departures and injuries. This team is middle of the pack at best. Reinforcements are not on their way either… prepare for a long disappointing season

          • Roar Rookie

            March 19th 2012 @ 6:38pm
            Behold said | March 19th 2012 @ 6:38pm | ! Report

            I think Halangahu is still in the side because BB groin is stopping him kicking goal and 10 is Halangahu’s best position and BB is better than Carter.

            Pretorious has to stay he isn’t that good in defence true but he at least tries to create some more go forward.

            The forward pack is too slow around the field and PTN can’t throw at line-outs so it is useless packing the forward pack with the tall timber. Need to get some more dynamic runners of the ball. If they get Vickerman back this season that will be a big plus but it doesn’t look likely. I don’t think Elsom is going to add anything to this pack, he has become a back line camper in the last few years. Spending the majority of his time playing outside or inside the Winger. I think the Tahs should put in a phone call to Suntory Sungoliath and steal George Smith.

            BB must move to 10 when he can goalkick hopefully soon. Personally I think AAC should come to inside and Foley stay at full back. Horne needs to pick up his game and show some of the potential that Deans saw to pick him for the Wallabies or get out of the team.

          • March 19th 2012 @ 8:23pm
            Justin said | March 19th 2012 @ 8:23pm | ! Report

            Most of BBs games are average, he just isn’t that good. I think the future is with someone like Foley at 10.

            • March 19th 2012 @ 8:50pm
              Blinky Bill of Bellingen said | March 19th 2012 @ 8:50pm | ! Report

              On Bernard Foley – Quite a number of folk are banging the drum about him at 10 and he certainly looks the goods to me. He appears to be a possible goal kicker too. But maybe I’m wrong there.

              Presumably the coaching staff have considered him at 10 are trying to bring him on slowly and give him a chance to find his feet in Super Rugby at 15, which is probably fair enough. I wonder if Michael Foley could swap him and BB at times during the game?

    • March 19th 2012 @ 9:55am
      sheek said | March 19th 2012 @ 9:55am | ! Report

      Good morning David,

      The Tahs, & perhaps Australian rugby as a whole, are like the joke about WW2 Italian tanks – one forward gear & 4 reverse gears!

      The Tahs, & perhaps Australian rugby as a whole, are in danger of sliding backwards faster than a, ….. I don’t know what, but it’s not pretty at the moment.

      The Australian game has serious structural flaws that have been evident now for the past 6-7 years, perhaps longer. Yet nothing is done to correct these. While the introduction of both the Force & Rebels has been highly meritorious, it perhaps has merely papered over the serious fault lines in the domestic structures.

      Player participation rates, while on the up, are simply not keeping pace with the advances in other footy codes. Wonderful amateur coaches, mentors & volunteers in junior rugby have apparently walked away in droves. Schoolboy rugby needs revamping.

      The game cannot afford premier rugby (many premier rugby clubs are broke) to be professional. Nor is premier rugby the answer to developing future talent by itself. A national comp is required. These are critical issues the game appears to be refusing to tackle.

      • March 19th 2012 @ 10:07am
        johnny-boy said | March 19th 2012 @ 10:07am | ! Report

        You don’t think the stye of play being nurtured at the top is filtering down adversely thru Australian rugby then ?

        • March 19th 2012 @ 12:26pm
          sheek said | March 19th 2012 @ 12:26pm | ! Report

          Sorry J-B – I’m not biting today…..!

      • Roar Guru

        March 19th 2012 @ 11:55am
        Bay35Pablo said | March 19th 2012 @ 11:55am | ! Report

        Sheek, quite right. Unless your numbers are growing faster than the population growth rate (about 3%?), you are losing ground.

        • March 19th 2012 @ 12:07pm
          kingplaymaker said | March 19th 2012 @ 12:07pm | ! Report

          Bay it’s not the Australian population growth rate that is crucial, but the disturbing NRL/AFL growth rate.

      • March 19th 2012 @ 12:01pm
        formeropenside said | March 19th 2012 @ 12:01pm | ! Report

        Sheek, as long as Queensland is fine, Australian rugby will be fine. Just keep Benn Robbo fit, and that should be about all the Wallabies need out of Tah-land. Although it would be nice if you could play AAC back into form.

        • March 19th 2012 @ 12:28pm
          sheek said | March 19th 2012 @ 12:28pm | ! Report


          If only it were all that simple (& I take it your comments are tongue-in-cheek)…..!

    • Roar Pro

      March 19th 2012 @ 10:09am
      Grimmace said | March 19th 2012 @ 10:09am | ! Report

      I don’t know about the Reds ‘blowing’ their lead. Losing both of their playmakers makes things tough, its not as though they decided that uncontested midfield kicks were the way to go. To their credit they didn’t let it get to them or use it as an excuse and they kept having a crack. Lets not forget that the Shorks are a pretty good outfit and came home very strongly.

      Teams playing like that and losing is fine unlike the tripe served up in Sydney on Saturday night

      • March 19th 2012 @ 11:22am
        rl said | March 19th 2012 @ 11:22am | ! Report

        I’m with you Grimmace – David is uneccessarily harsh on the Reds team that not only had to content with that but also, and more importantly in my view, uncontested scrums. The Reds front row was having a massive impact on the game up to that point (no coincidence that Greg Holmes had a start), and suddenly hamstrung. So much for the “incompetence” of Aussie front rows. Any reserve hooker that isn’t capable or willing to pack in to contested scrums as a prop needs to go back to rugby league. And a South African one at that – aren’t they all breast-fed by rhinos? Pretty easy to get a sense the game is going your way when your scrum stops going in reverse.

        While I’m sure Link would have preferred the win, I think he’d be quietly happy with their effort in the circs.

      • March 19th 2012 @ 1:52pm
        redsnut said | March 19th 2012 @ 1:52pm | ! Report

        If the team isn’t the Tahs, then David doesn’t like them it seems.

    • March 19th 2012 @ 10:45am
      Simon said | March 19th 2012 @ 10:45am | ! Report

      Sheek, its funny the differing perceptions people have. In 2001 my son played in a combined u/12 u/14 6 team afl competition, there is now now no junior afl competition and only 4 senior teams. In the major regional center there was 4 junior rugby league clubs and 2 senior clubs. There is now 1 club left. In that same time there has been a formation of 3 new junior and senior rugby union clubs and 2 junior and senior soccer clubs.

      Comment left via The Roar’s iPhone app. Download The Roar’s iPhone App in the App Store here.

      • Roar Guru

        March 19th 2012 @ 11:56am
        Bay35Pablo said | March 19th 2012 @ 11:56am | ! Report

        Simon, where are you? Send the ARU support team out to lock that beachhead in!!!

        • March 19th 2012 @ 12:29pm
          sheek said | March 19th 2012 @ 12:29pm | ! Report


          Mudgee (the country’s rural retreat for North Shorers & Rose Bay types)…..???

          Mind you, Mudgee IS a pretty place.

          • Roar Pro

            March 19th 2012 @ 4:18pm
            Grimmace said | March 19th 2012 @ 4:18pm | ! Report

            Any team called The Wombats is bound to attract interest.

            • March 19th 2012 @ 8:55pm
              Damo said | March 19th 2012 @ 8:55pm | ! Report

              Well let me tell you all about the exploits of my former team- the wombats, brilliant backline plays from half all the way out to 5/8 but sometimes the half went himself.
              Mind you the Wombats only lived in the U/ 8 and U/9 period of my career.

        • March 19th 2012 @ 6:55pm
          Simon said | March 19th 2012 @ 6:55pm | ! Report

          Northern NSW

    • Roar Guru

      March 19th 2012 @ 10:47am
      Rusty said | March 19th 2012 @ 10:47am | ! Report

      Best game of the weekend – the Cheetahs and Rebels, lots of adventure and width to the game but without the defensive malaise we have often seen with these two teams. Cracker

      Worst game of the weekend Tahs v Force. Pure unimaginative bash up rugby dross. Reminds me of an old currie cup game involving Free State and Northern transvaal when it was a game of “who has a better kicker”…except neither of these teams actually kicked or did anything well..

    • Roar Rookie

      March 19th 2012 @ 11:04am
      MikeG said | March 19th 2012 @ 11:04am | ! Report

      Hard to argue with you on this piece, David.

      Personally I think B Foley may be what is required at #10, with Barnes next to him at #12, or (and I can’t believe I’m saying this), perhaps Foley at 10, Carter at 12 and Barnes at 15?

      Either way, Halangahu has got to go…His feable attempted tackle on the final Force tryscorer was pathetic.

      • March 19th 2012 @ 11:45am
        Justin said | March 19th 2012 @ 11:45am | ! Report

        Mike your thoughts are similar to mine on a few threads since Saturday. Simply put Hangers, Barnes and Horne just are not working as a midfield and to be honest individually they have never really shone in their current positions. Thats just one reason Foley needs to come into 10. I think Barnes out the bakc and either Horne or Carter at 12 for some go forward with AAC in at 13 will give some more grunt.

        Right now they have two play-makers at 10/12 and neither is making any play so the Tahs are losing go forward and creativity due to this set up. Its just plodding stuff at the moment.

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