How the Waratahs can improve immediately

Elisha Pearce Columnist

By Elisha Pearce, Elisha Pearce is a Roar Expert

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    The performance of the Waratahs against the Brumbies last week was abysmal. They went down to Canberra and came back in a decidedly worse position than when they left Sydney.

    I wrote a piece last week which outlined how important this match was for the new regime. I labelled it their first big test to their aims to improve their style of play in tandem with their results.

    They failed this test.

    On the back of such a rubbish performance Tahs coach Michael Cheika has demanded the players deliver a PowerPoint presentation on what the team can do to improve their play, including at least six academic sources and preferably using an easy on the eye sunburst background.

    No, wait. That’s not right.

    According to The Australian, he moved the players rest day to Thursday to use days while defeat is still keenly felt to address the issues that resulted in the bad loss.

    Sounds like a good idea to me. I’ll get in before the rest day as well. Here are some of the rugby issues I believe can be turned around quickly.

    Coming into the match I was keen to see if the Waratahs were able to play an up-tempo style and continue to stick to that method of play if the Brumbies defence was stifling. In reality the Waratahs never really got into the up-tempo game to start with.

    I thought it particularly strange the Waratahs didn’t even start out on the right foot. If there was ever a part of the match where a side had enough energy and cohesiveness to execute their plan it would be early on.

    The reason they weren’t able to exert any real influence on the game, in the manner they no doubt planned, came down to physicality. Brumbies forwards had their way with their counterparts at ruck and lineout time in particular.

    When the ball is being coughed up so often there is no chance to build momentum.

    These days Super Rugby sides have only one tried and true method to successfully recycle the ball quickly to establish momentum: forwards running in small pods.

    If you watch the sides that establish physical dominance with the ball in hand as well as without – the Brumbies, Stormers, Bulls, Chiefs and Sharks in particular – they station the forwards in obvious groups of two and three to be picked for service by the halfback.

    Some New Zealand teams are able to use a slightly more finesse method that includes the forwards re-routing defenders by short, fast passes between the big men. But by far the most successful method of ball retention is forward pods.

    The Waratahs simply must make this a prominent aspect of their game.

    Two or three runs from a well-supported player opens the field more effectively than most other tactics.

    The next part of the play that needs to improve will help the score tick over in groups of five: lifting the speed of the side at the important moments of the game.

    All of the best teams in the competition lift their game noticeably when the moment arrives to go for the kill. In reality this is a feature of all good performers in any sport.

    Think of a tennis player going from trading ground strokes to suddenly exploding the next shot down the line when there is a small opening. The key is to spy the chance and then to whip into coordinated action.

    The Waratahs spent just over four minutes inside the 22m area against the Brumbies. Not scoring a try from that amount of time is atrocious.

    That comes down to not elevating the speed and accuracy of the team’s performance at the crucial stages of the match.

    Picture the Brumbies maul try. The ball was pushed into the corner, lineout taken and only moments later they’d piled across the line for a perfectly conceived try.

    Another example to follow is the Bulls against the Blues on the weekend. What you would notice if you looked carefully at the match was that whenever they had a sniff the Bulls suddenly found an extra gear or two and overwhelmed their opponent.

    Their opening try came after Akona Ndungane chased and gathered a high kick.

    Suddenly the Bulls transformed from a plodding team, being asked to use it by the ref under the new five second interpretation, into an explosion of pink activity. Just a few phases later they’d travelled the final 20 or so metres to score easily.

    Watch all of their tries. The increase in speed and desperation isn’t a coincidence, it’s a key to seizing the opportunity.

    One last area I’d try to address this week is the lineout. It’s going to be a bit of a defensive move that I’ll suggest but as a former hooker, I think it is worth adopting especially now it appears Tatafu Polota Nau will not pull up fit for the Cheetahs match.

    The Waratahs need to use quick lineouts. Don’t make the calls complicated and drawn out in their execution.

    Walk to the lineout quickly and let everyone know the call on the way. Hit your mark and throw straight away. This allows the team making the throw a greater advantage and less time for the defending team to guess the call based on the formations in the line.

    It’s a bit of a Band-Aid move that can’t be relied upon to work over the long haul, but the Waratahs need to worry about winning some more matches very soon.

    This next sequence of matches is the Waratahs best home stand of the season and they need to move up the standings before they begin to travel.

    There are many more areas to polish for this side, as many Waratahs fans have no doubt lamented in the last few days.

    However, just looking at these key areas would go a long way in allowing the Waratahs to continue implementing a pleasing style without ignoring the basic need to win rugby matches.

    Elisha Pearce
    Elisha Pearce

    Long-time Roarer Elisha Pearce joined us as a rugby union expert in 2015. He also works for Fairfax Media and has confused more Roarers with his name than anyone in the history of the site.

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    The Crowd Says (75)

    • Roar Guru

      March 13th 2013 @ 7:21am
      biltongbek said | March 13th 2013 @ 7:21am | ! Report

      Elisha, the probelm with the forward pods are that they can become rather predictable, as much as you want the Waratahs to do that, that is how much I want the South African sides to use it very sparingly.

      The whole idea of the forward pod for me is that the SA franchises must use it as the occasional dummy, by skipping the pod (which is usually the first reciever from theruck) completely and bypass it either by quick hands to the next reciever (after successfully having drawn the defence in) or alternatively to pass behind the pod out wide.

      A continuous use lf thepod is how the Bulls played last year and it got them nowhere against the strong ohysical defences of the Stormers and Chiefs.

      • Columnist

        March 13th 2013 @ 7:52am
        Elisha Pearce said | March 13th 2013 @ 7:52am | ! Report

        Hi Biltongbek. I’m not really suggesting its the tactic they should use every time they run the ball. But its effective for when the defense has all lined up, set across the field. A driving pod forces them to commit a few to the tackle and ensures quick ball. One or two of that is enough to start moving people around and gives the sliver of space and time needed to move the ball freely.

        • Roar Guru

          March 13th 2013 @ 7:58am
          biltongbek said | March 13th 2013 @ 7:58am | ! Report

          Gotcha. 😉

        • Roar Guru

          March 13th 2013 @ 10:21am
          Jiggles said | March 13th 2013 @ 10:21am | ! Report

          It’s a good restart tactic when play slows down. the ball carrier has to hit the line with good leg drive or else the team could be in a worse position than before. Timani has been caught out a few times like this.

      • March 13th 2013 @ 10:11am
        jameswm said | March 13th 2013 @ 10:11am | ! Report

        You don’t need forward pods so much if players work harder off the ball to support the ball.

    • Roar Guru

      March 13th 2013 @ 7:53am
      Turnover said | March 13th 2013 @ 7:53am | ! Report

      The waratahs need to vary the line out up. Put a halfback at the front of the line out to confuse the opposition, have Dave Dennis or whoever is jumping best wander into a five man, even a three man away from his lifters. You don’t have to be lifted! Rob Simmons does it well for the Reds, wanders in, if the opposition don’t follow they throw it at him, if they do he adjusts his position and gets lifted. So basic.

    • March 13th 2013 @ 8:30am
      Jagman said | March 13th 2013 @ 8:30am | ! Report

      To be fair on the forwards I didn’t once notice them running on to the ball from a mcKibbon pass. His passes always seemed to be behind the man and caused them to stop and catch and try to accelerate again into a fast approaching brumbies defense.

      • March 13th 2013 @ 8:47am
        Elisha Pearce said | March 13th 2013 @ 8:47am | ! Report

        Jagman, to be fair I think White, Frisby and Phipps all gave better service than McKibbon on the weekend.

        • Roar Guru

          March 13th 2013 @ 7:44pm
          Mantis said | March 13th 2013 @ 7:44pm | ! Report

          McKibbons passes seem to ‘drift’ (for lack of a better word) behind the player hes passing to. It has to be a problem with his passing technique, because often the ball starts in front of the player.

    • March 13th 2013 @ 8:30am
      stanley grella said | March 13th 2013 @ 8:30am | ! Report

      it still mazes me that people see the loss to the Brumbies as some defining moment in time.

      the brumbies did the same thing to the reds in the opening round, now while they scored and extra try or two against the tahs the reality is that the the brumbies were always going to dictate the tempo.

      the Tahs went to the capital not as a chance but as a hope. if you were to rate the australian teams you would put the Tahs in third behind the reds and brumbies and further more you would put them miles behind the reds attack. if the reds couldnt pierce the brumbies defence, im not sure why were trying to disect the Tahs as inept here.

      the Tahs have started slow in there opening two games and in game three they started Volla, the guy who has changed the tempo for them leaving the bench with little impact when it came to the backs.

      the tahs are a couple of years off being a real threat with a large porton of there squad turning over at the end of the year, it is unlikely that they will threaten the finals again til 2015. i would ask the question that maybe basing your play off what other teams are doing when your building for down the road is a misused opportuity to define your own style and challenge for a title. no one came first by copying, they came first by innovating.

      • March 13th 2013 @ 8:45am
        Elisha Pearce said | March 13th 2013 @ 8:45am | ! Report

        You are right in a lot of areas there Stanley. I’m not advocating that the Waratahs *should* have won that game. But they definitely should be trying to improve, and some things aren’t the kind of thing you need months and months to improve.

        The Brumbies and Reds are clearly better at the moment.

        And, yes the Waratahs do have a chance to change over the roster a bit next year. I thought it was silly holding off signing the new coach until after you’d started signing all the players. Bit weird, but now they have to live with it.

        You can’t see anywhere the Tahs could improve?

        • March 13th 2013 @ 9:14am
          stanley grella said | March 13th 2013 @ 9:14am | ! Report

          of course there are areas for imporvement, across the board. i just dont want to see the Tahs fall into a trap of instant gratification when they have the chance to build a solid foundation of culture and skills that can move beyond the current playing group.

          further more as i said above, i dont want the tahs to employ the game plan of other teams or do whats woking for whoever the flavour of the month is. i believe this is what is wrong with australian rugby in that we have tried to get the wallabies to copy NZ rather than play to our own strengths and i would prefer the tahs coaching team to sit down, plot a course for 18-24 months and stick to it regardless of outcomes or commentary.

          • March 13th 2013 @ 10:01am
            Blinky Bill of Bellingen said | March 13th 2013 @ 10:01am | ! Report

            sg – I think you are getting your wish. Chieka appears determined to remain on course with his plan to bring about change. His challenge seems to be doing it with the players currently at his disposal.

            My read on what EP is saying is that, regardless of style or Master Plan, we really do need to get some wins now. And fair enough too. I guess my concern is changing things in the short term to get a few wins that will never see us reach where Cheika wants us to be as a team. But then if Cheika’s not careful we risk losing ‘belief’.

            I just hope fans will be patient because just when I think the Tahs are on the right track along comes something else to factor into the equation, such as 80% of players coming off contract. Initially I thought this was a dire situation but now I’m wondering if perhaps it’s actually given Cheika

            • March 13th 2013 @ 11:26am
              Stin said | March 13th 2013 @ 11:26am | ! Report

              Some wins to at least build the support again. They need support!

              • March 13th 2013 @ 11:57am
                Blinky Bill of Bellingen said | March 13th 2013 @ 11:57am | ! Report

                Yes WE need support. 😉

              • March 13th 2013 @ 12:36pm
                Stin said | March 13th 2013 @ 12:36pm | ! Report

                I’m gonna start a Tahs support group.

              • March 13th 2013 @ 8:38pm
                Malo said | March 13th 2013 @ 8:38pm | ! Report

                Great article agree wholeheartedly. We have to improve now not next year or in 5 years but now or there will be very little support. They have the players and the coach but not the attitude.

    • March 13th 2013 @ 8:52am
      Gnostic said | March 13th 2013 @ 8:52am | ! Report

      In talking about the timeout what does S. Timani contribute to the timeout. A second rower who does not fulfil the basic requirements of the position. If he is wanted to run the ball and get over the gain line only he should play at 8, but then he doesn’t display the workrate or dynamism for that. As for running and defensive impact Fotu Aeulua showed what areal impact player can do in the same time on the field. Tmani is a liability the Tahs and the Wallabies cannot afford for the sake of the one or two runs/defensive hits per game.
      Apart from selection of non performing individuals, where Chieka is hamstrung by the squad he inherited, the high pace game requires accuracy in skills execution and this is a problem across Australian Rugby but especially at the Tahs and perhaps not surprisingly is worst amount established Wallabies stars who display the same skill deficiencies that they have for many years eg. AAC not being able to pass effectively from both hands or Barnes inaccurate and poorly thought out kicking.

      • March 13th 2013 @ 9:21am
        stanley grella said | March 13th 2013 @ 9:21am | ! Report

        one could argue Timani takes alot of “timeout”

        its a shame Timani isnt better at the lieout as he is shoulders and above any aus secod rower come scrumtime in history. an abslute beast. he is off to france next year anyway so the problems you have with him should solve themselves for the tahs/wallabies anyway.

        as for Barnes, i think Cheikas spray after the gamesaturday about lazy ball runners says it all about how he has had to play the last couple of yeas for the tahs/wallabies. there just havnt been options on for him because of a lack of structre. ifguys rnt going to get into position and create options or do so slowly then just putting the bal down field becomes a far better solution than havingthe cra beaten out of you continualy behind the gain line.

        • Roar Guru

          March 13th 2013 @ 10:26am
          Jiggles said | March 13th 2013 @ 10:26am | ! Report

          Enough with this scrum time rubbish.

          It’s a week justification used by Tah fans to see players like Robinson, TPN, Timani etc picked over more competent individuals.

          Being good at the scrum has gotten the Tahs and the Wallabies no where in 4 years.

          • March 13th 2013 @ 10:40am
            stanley grella said | March 13th 2013 @ 10:40am | ! Report

            not a tahs fan jiggles, a brumbies man who lives in paddington and works weekends so only has the tahs as a live rugby option.

            not a weak justification at all, as i said, its a shame he doesnt have other skills to go with it. just as its a shame that other individuals lack scrum skills to go with there lineout skills. we lack complete players in aus rugby in quite a few positions. play quade, he needs a body guard, play dan palmer get little aorund the park, play barnes dont challenge the line but get greater communication etc, etc, etc.

            as a reds man, i do however believe that your tah attack is based on quite a bit of red justification. 2011 is getting further and further away and the reds dont seem to be adapting nor there players developing into more complete individuals.

            • Roar Guru

              March 13th 2013 @ 11:11am
              Jiggles said | March 13th 2013 @ 11:11am | ! Report

              Not accusing you of being a Tah fan, that’s a rather big insult!

              I’m just pointing out the Sydney-centric and to a lesser extent Australian media’s obsession with the scrum when really it makes up a very small component of the game. It seems there is still a lot of mental baggage from the Jones days where Baxter, Dunning, Sheperdson etc were getting munched up week in week out.

              I am not advocating a return to those Jones days, when about 5 minutes was reportedly spent on scrum training, but I am advocating the ability of a tight-five player in the scrum, not being the determining factor with regards to their selection or not. This seems to be the prevailing thinking in Australian Rugby. It’s far more important that the ability to get to breakdowns and make a high number of tackles per match is considered when picking a pack.

              As for the Reds I think their problem is relying on Cooper to much when he is on the paddock. If he isn’t there, its fine and they can click just as well as any back-line. Think when Lucas was 10 last year, their was some great back-line play. When Cooper is on the rest of the back-line seems to sit back and wait for him to make a decision. It’s fine when he is on top form, but when he isn’t it gets a bit stuttered.

              One positive, is that I think the pack is nearly back at its 2011 best and the first round loss to the Brumbies was a kick up the bum. When the back line clicks, I think they will be a dangerous and underrated team.

              • March 13th 2013 @ 11:28am
                Jagman said | March 13th 2013 @ 11:28am | ! Report

                Jiggles did you see what the Brumbies did to the Waratahs scrum the moment Timani was replaced?

              • Roar Guru

                March 13th 2013 @ 11:33am
                Jiggles said | March 13th 2013 @ 11:33am | ! Report

                They still had Robinson, Douglas and Ryan on with Chapman who is good in the scrums also.

                Robinson and Douglas in particular are praised for their scrum work, with Robinson’s ability being cited as a reason why he ‘must start’ time and time again.

                There was absolutely no excuse for what happened.

              • March 13th 2013 @ 11:41am
                formeropenside said | March 13th 2013 @ 11:41am | ! Report

                I saw the tahs scrum in trouble once TPN went off – after that it varied depending on the props.

              • Roar Guru

                March 13th 2013 @ 11:45am
                Jiggles said | March 13th 2013 @ 11:45am | ! Report

                fos they still had 2 Wallaby props, Ryan and the Wallabies second row plus Chapman all rotating in and out of the scrum. There is no excuse for it to be pumped like it was.

              • March 13th 2013 @ 12:10pm
                Jagman said | March 13th 2013 @ 12:10pm | ! Report

                In the tighthead I’m referring to the Waratahs receded on Ryan’s side not Robinson’s and if Douglas ( who had moved to THL) and Ryan are so highly rated then what do we make of Timani’s absence making such a difference? It’s not something I’ve only noticed at the Waratahs but also last years EOYT. If Douglas is a good Scrummaging lock then Timani must be somewhere closer to the Brad Thorn realm of scrummaging locks.

                FOS I agree the scrum varied but the tighthead happened (from memory, happy to be corrected) the first scrum after Timani went off.

              • Roar Guru

                March 13th 2013 @ 12:17pm
                Jiggles said | March 13th 2013 @ 12:17pm | ! Report

                So putting aside my belief that the Wallabies in the Tahs scrum should not have crumbled under that sort of pressure, are you seriously suggesting we should ignore the fact that Timani can’t jump, can’t carry, can’t tackle and doesn’t hit rucks just because he can shove in a scrum 10 times a game?

              • March 13th 2013 @ 1:05pm
                Jagman said | March 13th 2013 @ 1:05pm | ! Report

                Actually jiggles I agree with you that the scrum makes less of a difference this year. Refs seem reluctant to call for resets or penalties other than early engagement. However June Test rugby will not be the same thing, international refs don’t have to comply with what helps Sanzar’s TV ratings. I’m really just acknowledging the dilemma with regard to Timani because it seems to me that he makes a big difference in the scrum that might be needed against the Lions. Yes he’s a poor lineout option but tackling and carrying? really? Certainly attracts a lot of defenders when carrying.

              • Roar Guru

                March 13th 2013 @ 1:23pm
                Jiggles said | March 13th 2013 @ 1:23pm | ! Report

                He carries twice a game. Anyway his selection cannot be justified on his scrum when he contributes little else.

              • March 13th 2013 @ 4:37pm
                Jagman said | March 13th 2013 @ 4:37pm | ! Report

                Ok I went searching for stats. Timani has played 80 minutes so far, 30 against the Reds then got injured, 50 against the Brumbies. In 80 minutes he has carried 14 times for 82 meters 4 tackle busts and 1 line break and made 12 tackles and the best stat of them all… he caught 1 line out.

              • March 13th 2013 @ 5:20pm
                Jagman said | March 13th 2013 @ 5:20pm | ! Report

                Sorry forgot to mention he had 1 missed tackle in that 80 minutes.

              • Roar Guru

                March 13th 2013 @ 7:48pm
                Mantis said | March 13th 2013 @ 7:48pm | ! Report

                Personally I think Timani is the most overrated forward in Australia (just ahead of Higginbotham). For all this talk of how much of a beast he is, it wouldnt be bad if he showed it once in a while.

          • Roar Guru

            March 13th 2013 @ 11:01am
            Phil Bird said | March 13th 2013 @ 11:01am | ! Report

            actually the Tahs have the worst scrum in the comp so far this year

            they win 80-something percent of their own feeds

            • Roar Guru

              March 13th 2013 @ 11:12am
              Jiggles said | March 13th 2013 @ 11:12am | ! Report

              This is Australian rugby. Perceptions and bias die a slow slow death.

              • March 13th 2013 @ 12:13pm
                stanley grella said | March 13th 2013 @ 12:13pm | ! Report

                the Tahs are wallaby calls need to be dispelled as myth.


                two waratahs who are gauranteed starters for the wallabies.
                BARNES – seems on his way out
                TPN – moores understudy, occasional starter


                starting due to injury to others.

                kepu – bench player

                mitchell – well past form frm injury, well past being a wallaby
                turner – never a starter, recovering from injury

                its not first choice wallabies were talking about, its squad players of the hird ranked team in the world.

                further more, these players/squad have not had a full preseason in two – three years whilst the brumbies have enjoyed two and its shown.

              • Roar Guru

                March 13th 2013 @ 12:46pm
                Jiggles said | March 13th 2013 @ 12:46pm | ! Report

                Why are Robinson and Palu guaranteed starters? Palu there is no one else until now, but with Robinson there have been ready replacements for some time.

                Why was Douglas and Timani given preference over players like Pyle, Fardy and Carter? you cannot cite Super Rugby form.

                Why was Kepu on the bench when other options were better?

              • Roar Guru

                March 13th 2013 @ 12:46pm
                Jiggles said | March 13th 2013 @ 12:46pm | ! Report

                I’ll also add why was Dennis favoured at 6 when Higginbotham and Mowen had performed better there all year?

              • March 13th 2013 @ 4:10pm
                Jagman said | March 13th 2013 @ 4:10pm | ! Report

                Carter and Fardy had major long term injuries last year. Pyle is a LHL and the players ahead of him were Sharpe and Simmonds not Douglas and Timani. Kepu’s selection was not that bad considering the Tah’s scrum actually performed last year, games that come to mind are the ones against the Sharks and the Crusaders, traditionally the best scrumaging teams from SA and NZ. Other tight head Wallaby props were also injured: Palmer, Ryan, Maafu.

                agree that Mowen missed out but Higginbotham wasn’t any better than Dennis. Mitchell was picked when there were about 10 injured wingers including Wallabies: Shipperly, Morohan, Davies, Turner, Vuna, Tomane.

    • March 13th 2013 @ 9:04am
      The Battered Slav said | March 13th 2013 @ 9:04am | ! Report

      I feel this article could have been a one liner.

      Q: “How The Waratahs Can Improve Immediately”

      A: Sign with a different province.

      • March 13th 2013 @ 9:08am
        Elisha Pearce said | March 13th 2013 @ 9:08am | ! Report

        I’m not allowed one liner articles BS! haha.

        But here’s a few I’ve thought of recently:

        “Quade Cooper, Kurtley Beale, James O’Connor and Digby Ioane. Discuss.”

        “Everyone ignores the Force.”

        “New Zealand teams come in from the side of the ruck more than other countries.”

        “Australian teams keep their hands on the ball longer than other teams.”

        I’d probably get more comments writing those kind of things.

        • March 13th 2013 @ 10:26am
          Markus said | March 13th 2013 @ 10:26am | ! Report

          “New Zealand teams come in from the side of the ruck more than other countries”
          If both of the Crusaders games so far are anything to go by, there is at least some truth to that one. While both were entertaining and flowing matches, the breakdown was a free-for-all.
          At one point Kieran Read questioned the number of Blues coming in the side or off their feet, the ref said he had no issue with their approach, and shortly after the Crusaders had adapted their play to follow suit.

          I suspect that if the Australian derbies were allowed to get away with even half of what was let go during those matches, we would see a similar increase in free-flowing play.

        • March 13th 2013 @ 10:33am
          The Battered Slav said | March 13th 2013 @ 10:33am | ! Report

          Elisha that first one would set these boards alight knowing everyones predeliction with the now four amigos…

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