Will the Waratahs finally win a Super Rugby title in 2013?

Bruce Rankin Roar Rookie

By Bruce Rankin, Bruce Rankin is a Roar Rookie


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    Waratahs player Berrick Barnes braces as he hits the line. (AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy)

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    The Super Rugby championship is set to start in a few weeks and, as ever, the key question remains: will the perennial underachievers, the Waratahs, finally win a Super Rugby title in 2013 after 17 seasons of failure?

    We have yet another new coach in Michael Cheika, who appears to be heading in the right direction.

    However, as Steve Jancetic noted in his Roar article on Monday, Cheika has yet to make the key decision: the selection of his Captain.

    Cheika said of the captaincy that: “Until the other lads had come back and started running, you’ve got to see who wants it the most.” and …..”The leadership’s earned, it’s not a given.” [emphasis mine]

    In my view, while the latter point is valid, the former is an inappropriate and seriously inadequate basis for selection of a role as critical as the Captaincy.

    Over five years ago in November 2007, just after RWC 2007 I wrote a series of four articles for the Roar entitled “The Art of Captaincy”.

    In Part 3 on Australian captains and in particular the Waratahs captaincy, I observed:

    “I have attended every Super 12 and Super 14 game at the SFS since 1996. Looking back I’ve come to the conclusion that the principal reason for the Waratahs failure to win a Super championship is because they have not had a top line captain with those key captaincy skills like John Eales, Brett Robinson, Blackadder, and so on.

    “They’ve had many fine players as captain – Tim Gavin, Michael Brial, Matt Burke, Jason Little, Whittaker, Freier, Waugh and others – but none who would be highly rated as captains. I think it was early on in 1996-97 former Springbok captain Tiaan Strauss played for the Waratahs but was not apparently considered for the captaincy.

    “The Waratahs results may have been markedly different with his experience at the helm. Sure there are many other factors associated with the Waratahs poor Super track record, but the lack of an outstanding Waratahs captain and leader over the past 12 years appears as the one consistent factor in the failure to win a Super title.”

    Five years later, here we are in 2013 and nothing has changed with the Waratahs, except it is now 17 seasons of failure versus 12!

    Ewen McKenzie showed he had the goods as coach by taking the Waratahs to two finals in 2005 and 2008 – but still no title.

    In the past five seasons, the captains were Whittaker, Waugh, and in 2012, variously by Mumm, Halangahu, Elsom and Robinson – none of whom demonstrated clearly distinguished captaincy skills or attributes.

    Waugh as captain showed he had no tactical nous whatsoever in the 2011 game at the SFS, when he wasted some 15 minutes with about a dozen scrums, vainly attempting to score a pushover try. The most brain dead performance as a captain that I’ve seen in over 50 years of playing and watching rugby.

    To come back to Michael Cheika, what are the attributes he should be seeking in his captain?

    In that same 2007 Roar article the following criteria for choosing captains were posed:

    Coaches should give the following points careful thought:
    1. The person selected for this position need not be a brilliant or popular player, but, rather, one who can lead and give confidence and inspire his team mates.

    2. He must be able during the course of a match to make decisions to change the type of play and to change tactics according to circumstances.

    3. He should be able to rally his team when the pressure is on and consolidate the position.

    4. He must not allow his team to panic.

    5. He should be able to sum up a position rapidly, being able in close play to open it up again, vary the attack, and reorganise cover defence.

    6. Once a team goes on the field the captain is in complete control. A coach cannot go on the field during a game – neither can the captain hold up his hand and say, “Please, Sir, what do I do next?”

    7. A coach can teach general tactics and advise on the policy of a side – but the captain has absolute control once a game begins. Everything is up to him. There is no remote control radio to direct him – nor should there be.

    8. It is just as much a coach’s responsibility to train players to think for themselves as it is for him to school a captain to assume his responsibilities and lead his side.

    9. The Captaincy is indeed a position in itself and the captain should be picked first when the team is selected. Why? First, as coach, you decide what type of rugby you want to play; second you pick as your captain the one who is best capable of executing the strategies and tactics for that type of play (and obviously agrees with the style of play!); third you pick the team members with the skills and experience suited to that type of play.” By default captain and coach work hand in glove together.

    10. The captain must be an 80 minute player. The last 20 minutes of a game are when tight games are won or lost – when it is vital that the captain’s skills, experience and tactical nous are present to rally the side and to make tactical changes that will win the game. There are many legendary examples of great captains leading their teams to come from behind and win in the last few minutes.

    11. The playing position of the captain is indeed crucial and should be from 1 to 9. In my view the ideal positions are half back, No 8 and side row forwards as they have the best perspective as play develops, compared to those in the tight five or engine room. They have more visibility from the side/back of the scrum and lineout, while the half back has most visibility of all. However, there are many outstanding captains from the tight five: Eales, Fitzpatrick, Smit, Johnson. In contrast the fly half or first 5/8th is the chief play maker and, in my view, should not be appointed as captain. He has to read the play, initiate set moves (talking to the captain, halfback and inside centre etc), have the vision to make instantaneous decisions and is often the principal goal kicker. These are more than enough responsibilities to shoulder, without the added burden of captaincy and all the off-field roles of press conferences, interviews and various speeches etc. Successful captains from inside centre outwards are rare exceptions. They are too far away from the seat of the action, thus limited in their ability to determine tactical changes and communicate decisions. Proximity to the referee is valuable but I feel a relatively minor consideration compared to the others.

    12. “Shared leadership” is considered an important factor in corporate management today and I feel is equally applicable on the rugby field. It’s not only the captain, but also the importance of the “senior players” and the role they jointly play, to keep exchanging vital information and suggestions with the captain, so that he may make the necessary changes to play and tactics.

    13. Now that the use of remote control radio is a reality (see point 7 above!) its use by the coach via water carriers, doctor etc to control or make changes to on field play and tactics should be kept to an absolute minimum. Otherwise the captain’s control and on field leadership could be undermined and detrimental to his confidence. Unless they have been clearly discussed and agreed beforehand, the coach’s ability to make tactical substitutions during the game can also be unsettling to a captain – and the team.

    Of all the foregoing, the most critical ability of the captain is Point 2 to be able to change tactics and play many times during a game without reference to the coach. No coaching is of much use without a captain able to change tactics on the field, especially in the last 20 minutes of a game, where the captain’s skill and experience, in conjunction with his senior leaders, is vital to win tight games.

    The example of the Brumbies in 2012 is illustrative.

    New coach Jake White, arrived from South Africa without much first hand knowledge of the squad of Brumbies, albeit I believe was involved in its selection. He surprised nearly everyone, by selecting Ben Mowen as captain, instead of the experienced hooker Stephen Moore.

    Mowen showed he had what it takes as his leadership skills proved vital in guiding one of the most inexperienced Brumbies sides ever assembled through the 2012 season, to just miss out on the finals.

    It was a masterstroke by Jake White. My guess is he will prefer Mowen to Pocock as captain in 2013.

    So to Cheika and the Waratahs in 2013 – who will he choose as captain?

    In Steve Jancetic’s Roar article, “PeterK” gave a very good summary of the various candidates.

    My concern is that the new squad contains a dearth of genuine senior leaders.

    Leading candidates in the forwards are:
    • Robinson – has not shown genuine leadership skills, however could be alternate captain
    • Polota-Nau – is basically only a 60 minute player, who is frequently injured. No. (Point 10)
    • Palu – has the experience at the end of a long career, however too injury prone
    • Hooper – a young gun at only 21 – he could be the bolter

    Leading candidates in the backs:
    • McKibbin – in an ideal spot as experienced halfback, however am not familiar with his leadership skills
    • Barnes – vastly experienced, a senior leader, has a cool head and a good tactical brain
    • Ashley-Cooper – experienced but ruled out by Point 11
    • Mitchell – experienced but ruled out by Point 11

    My vote is for Cheika to do a Jake White and select Michael Hooper as captain.

    As new coach and captain they are ideally placed to work hand in glove together in moulding a new team for the future.

    I would also vote for Berrick Barnes as vice-captain, for the reasons mentioned.

    In summary, can the Waratahs win a Super Rugby title in 2013?


    Will the Waratahs win a Super Rugby title in 2013?

    In my view – no – the critical on field captaincy and leadership skills are not apparent at this stage.

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    The Crowd Says (65)

    • January 11th 2013 @ 6:56am
      Fin said | January 11th 2013 @ 6:56am | ! Report

      I am assuming Micahael Cooper is Micahel Hooper and not Ashley-Cooper. If so a fine choice and one I agree with 100%.

      For mine a bigger issue will be how he plays 10, 12 and 15. He has two good candidates for three positions, and thats without injury.
      But all that said I think they’ll win our conference, on the back of forward dominance- the title might be a bit too much to ask.

      • Roar Guru

        January 11th 2013 @ 1:23pm
        B-Rock said | January 11th 2013 @ 1:23pm | ! Report

        Hooper is too young as well as being new to the side. You need to build leadership credibility over several years. Experience is also critical for on field decisions around penalties, etc.

        He also has a huge workload around the park – this doesnt rule him out but I would assume it would push him back a few years as we dont want to compromise his performance

        I would pick Barnes or AAC myself – neither are ideal but the best available.

        • January 11th 2013 @ 2:06pm
          Fin said | January 11th 2013 @ 2:06pm | ! Report

          Barnes will have enough on his plate and AACs involvement in the player power at the Brumbies worries me. Hooper seems the right candidate without experience the others have the experience but don’t seem to be the right candidate, tough choice.

          Just read the article on Cliffy by The Insider, I hadn’t rated him before hand due to obvious injury concerns and his quiet demeanour lead me to feel he may not have much voice in the dressing room, maybe I need to readjust my thinking. By Bruces reckoning he ticks alot of boxes if fit.Thoughts?

        • January 11th 2013 @ 10:32pm
          Hightackle said | January 11th 2013 @ 10:32pm | ! Report

          Barnes or AAC would be fine becuz “point 11” has proven to be BS. Umaga, Mortlock, de Villiers, O’Driscoll and many other good captains have captained or captain from the centres. It has been proven that its the person NOT the position time after time.

    • Roar Guru

      January 11th 2013 @ 7:08am
      sheek said | January 11th 2013 @ 7:08am | ! Report

      Hi Bruce,

      Basically you’re advocating an Ike Eisenhower (WW2 Allied Supreme Commander) or Richard Winters (Band of Brothers, Easy Company).

      Not necessarily the best individual player, but one who is nevertheless committed & leads by example. One who is also unafraid to delegate.

      I do disagree that the captain can only come from 1 to 9. Why deny yourself if the best candidate might be a winger?

      I personally don’t know the answer. I don’t know enough about the players to know who might be the best candidate. no-one stands out for me.

      If I was pressed to choose, I would nominate Adam Ashley-Cooper. I like a quiet, thoughtful leader who leads by example through his own work ethic. Ashley-Cooper appears to be that man.

      Michael Hooper in my view is a potential future leader. But I would be loathe to rush him.

      I also agree the lack of a genuine leader might prevent NSW from realising their potential.

      • Roar Guru

        January 11th 2013 @ 11:21am
        Rabbitz said | January 11th 2013 @ 11:21am | ! Report

        I find I must echo Sheek’s comments.

        Strong leadership is what is needed – that is fairly obvious, but the leader also needs to be given a clear direction with regards to game plans, alternatives and minimum performance requirements.

        Hopefully Michael Chieka can provide that to the Captain.

        One thing the NSW team does not need is a “leadership group”. They need clear, concise, timely directions, not committee minutes…

      • Roar Guru

        January 11th 2013 @ 1:36pm
        jeznez said | January 11th 2013 @ 1:36pm | ! Report

        Sheek, I too was leaning towards AAC. Then I mentioned it to a mate who started laughing at me and said I’d obviously never met the guy!

        I’m now leaning towards Palu – hugely dependent on him being over injuries though.

        The Hurricanes game last year was informative, Palu was the only Tah forward I rated that night and as they headed off into the break for the June internationals after the match it was Palu who gathered his team mates and demanded that they all do something to make a difference during the break for when they got back together.

        I saw Douglas in particular make some changes at that point and I wonder if Cliff had the added gravitas of the captaincy behind him if we wouldn’t have seen a reaction from more players.

    • January 11th 2013 @ 7:30am
      nickoldschool said | January 11th 2013 @ 7:30am | ! Report

      All very valid attributes listed in your article Bruce. Would add one thing though and it would be very high in the list: the coach and his captain must have a very special rapport on and off the field and be on the same page. There should be an osmosis between the 2, a spiritual father/son relationship imo. I felt that between Mccaw and Henry each time i saw both talking, together or separately.

      If a coach knows one of his player very well and have this trust and understanding, i think its a huge plus to promote the guy as his captain. Not sure Cheika has that with one of the senior players. In this case, selecting the newbie and trying to create this mentor/mentored relationship with Hooper looks good to me. Both of them have this carefree and give it all attitude and i imagine they could get on pretty well. Plus Hooper is young and eager.

      • January 11th 2013 @ 9:37am
        Blue Blood said | January 11th 2013 @ 9:37am | ! Report

        I agree with the point you make. The coach needs to be able to select his captain for this reason. It’s why it was important for the Force, for instance, to only name Hodgson as an interim captain until he could be endorsed by Foley. I’m sure double recons didn’t feel like a blessing at the time but Hodgson being injured allowed Foley and Hodgson quality time to get to know one another. To spend an incredible amount of time communicating and developing one if the most important relationships of both their careers.

        While no official announcement has been made about Hodgson being captain for 2013, it has been heard that Foley and Hodgson are thick as theives and have an ease with each other that you wouldn’t expect after only 6 months in contact with each other. If Hodgson had been on tour with the Wallabies, as he has for the previous 4, he still wouldn’t be in camp until Monday. The relationship is critical and I hope that 6months developing a strong relationship will put the Force in a strong position.
        I also hope that Foley does formally endorse Hodgson as captain, the members mag suggests he will (as it has a captain’s address by Hodgson). Hodgson also needs to be signed on for a longer term contract. He is only secure for 2013 and we can’t afford to have 3 different captains in 3 years.

        Great article by the way. If the captain is well chosen then the Tahs have no excuse. A team bulging with Wallabies, great facilities and the coach they wanted. Strong Australian franchises is the desire of every Australian rugby supporter.

    • January 11th 2013 @ 7:32am
      Allanthus said | January 11th 2013 @ 7:32am | ! Report

      Hi Bruce

      I’d rate the influence of the coach ahead of the captain. The Tahs have consistently underachieved because, at various times, they have not had the players, the team cohesion, or the game plan to provide the consistent high level performance required. And mostly, that’s been a failure of coaching.

      If Cheika really is a new broom, and is able to stamp a new dynamic style of play, and he has selected the right players to deliver on it, then perhaps this time they are a chance. But that’s a big if.

      Also, it’s a very very tough comp to win. 15 teams and many genuine chances, tough matches week after week. I’m more interested in seeing if they can play well first, and make supporters feel good about their team. If that happens then the results will take care of themselves.

    • January 11th 2013 @ 7:45am
      Arron said | January 11th 2013 @ 7:45am | ! Report

      Interesting article, but disagree with view on Chris Whittaker. If there was no George Gregan at the time Whittaker would have been half and captain of the Wallabies. Never heard anything but utmost respect for him from those that know.

      Comment left via The Roar’s iPhone app. Download it now [http://itunes.apple.com/au/app/the-roar/id327174726?mt=8].

    • Roar Guru

      January 11th 2013 @ 8:02am
      Turnover said | January 11th 2013 @ 8:02am | ! Report

      I like the idea of Hooper being captain, but I do think he should have a season or two at the tah’s first. The kid is going to have a long career ahead but I am sure he still has plenty to learn. I don’t see how a 20 (haven’t checked that) year old, despite being as tough and as good as he is, can lead a side with minimal big game experience.

      Dave Dennis has played well at a super level. Based on performance and game time, he should be captain. It might take him to the next level.