Waratahs crash back to the pack

jeznez Roar Guru

By jeznez, jeznez is a Roar Guru

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    The Australian Conference leaders the Waratahs have crashed back to earth with a thud.

    Defeated by the Lions from Johannesburg, 0-29, a great big doughnut in front on their home ground.

    The Lions are a quality side and played well. The Tahs started strongly dominating possession and field position but were unable to trouble the scorers with excellent defence from the Lions, some critical turnovers and some poor decision making by the home team.

    Coming into this season, the majority of the Waratahs fans that post on this site were dubious about the quality of the squad. The concerns were widespread.

    A lightweight pack without enough of ability for and attention to the ruck, an underpowered loosehead scrummager and a lack of forward power runners to generate momentum in tight.

    In the backs, although they were undoubtedly going to be able to score some fantastic tries if they got good ball, their defence was questionable and there were concerns about their kicking game with Bernard Foley not renowned for a big boot and their fullback not a noted kicker either.

    Early season the ball security at the breakdown was as vulnerable as feared.

    However, a win over the Stormers, draw to the Sharks and a loss to the Jaguares meant after three rounds they had a pass mark heading into their first round of conference games.

    The Waratahs looked outmuscled in the first of those games against the Rebels before a storming half of rugby saw the backline really unleash for the first time in the season. Wins against the Brumbies, Reds and Sunwolves followed.

    The Waratahs had seemingly fixed their ball security issues. They were turning up to rucks in numbers and displaying a number of strings to their bow.

    Against the Rebels, Michael Hooper started driving his fellow forwards into contact to alleviate the tight running issues.

    Foley kicked for Israel Folau to gain possession and territory, Taqele Naiyarovoro was brought on to the wing and started swatting away defenders, Curtis Rona moved into outside centre and stiffened up the defence while improving his running threat, but most of all Bryce Hegarty joined at fullback.

    Hegarty’s inclusion added a kicking option to complement Kurtley Beale and Foley, he also reads the game very well and displayed strong positional play both when the Waratahs had the ball and when the opposition did. He added a quick set of hands in wider channels to help shift the ball to the strike runners.

    They didn’t sit on their laurels, displaying other options as they faced other Australian Conference teams.

    It was very noticeable in the match against the Reds that they were counter rucking in numbers, using short passing among the forwards to shift the point of contact and that Beale was stepping into the first receiver to throw wide passes to Foley to spark attack in wider channels.

    The Waratahs game plan started to click, their coaching staff credited greater patience with the ball but this poster always thought the critical change was the ability to hang on to the ball, recycle quickly and give the backs the platform to attack.

    Having won four on the trot the Lions loomed as an excellent test.

    The South African conference leaders, in Sydney for the first match of their travel leg. Here was an opportunity to see if the team was the real deal.

    In hindsight, the change in ability to hang on to the ball seems to have stemmed from the quality of the opposition.

    Here the Waratahs came up against a tournament heavyweight and kept it 0-0 for twenty minutes. From that point on they were never in it. Their possession dried up, I started counting midway through the second half and estimate there were eight or more ruck turnovers to the Lions.

    Hooper became a bit of a lone hand in trying to contest and slow opposition ball. For most of the match, the Tahs threw three players into ball security while the Lions were able to recycle frequently with only one man over the ball.

    The quality of play and possession showed as the Lions racked up points and the Tahs began to implode.

    JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - AUGUST 05: Andries Coetzee of Lions is tackled by Seta Tamanivalu of Crusaders lduring the Super Rugby Final match between Emirates Lions and Crusaders at Emirates Airline Park on August 05, 2017 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

    (Photo by Gallo Images)

    Brett McKay wrote earlier in the week about the second half fades of the Aussie conference teams. The Waratahs were the exception to the rule.

    However, here we saw them play 20 strong minutes of rugby but not get the points they wanted and as the score began to mount the other way their heads dropped. They went away from a game plan that had stressed the Lions and allowed the opposition to completely dictate the pace of the game.

    The Lions pushed the pace until they had scoreboard dominance and then slowed it down.

    Between Sekope Kepu, Rob Simmons, Michael Hooper, Nick Phipps, Bernard Foley and Kurtley Beale there were 439 Test caps – let alone the even larger number of Super Rugby caps. This doesn’t count the caps of players like Tom Robertson, Ned Hanigan, Curtis Rona and Taqele Naiyaravoro.

    The passion for the jersey and desire to play the full 80 that had been on show this season appeared to dissipate, despite the histrionic chest thumping at the end after Franco Mostert went after Phipps for throwing Nic Groom to the ground in a questionable manner.

    The Waratahs have the bye this week.

    Are they as bad as the Lions made them look? They got dominated at the scrum and ruck. Their lack of forward carriers was exposed as they asked Naiyaravoro to make the tight carries and he was easily contained and turned over.

    Does this mean the Australian conference is even worse than we may have feared?

    It has been called out a few times that this is the best start to a Super Rugby season for the Waratahs since 2006. I think the simple answer to that is that this is the first time the Waratahs have avoided a New Zealand team until week 12 of the tournament.

    Is this a blip on the radar or is the coming four-week stretch that goes, home – away – home – away against the Blues, Crusaders, Highlanders and Chiefs about to expose the cracks in this Waratahs side that many of us thought were there?

    This lightweight pack has outperformed their conference on the first meeting, something I didn’t think they could do.

    Having seen what the Lions did to them, can they counter and lift again or will we see their heads drop and some big scores against them in the coming weeks?

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    The Crowd Says (37)

    • April 22nd 2018 @ 8:15am
      Fionn said | April 22nd 2018 @ 8:15am | ! Report

      I think the Aussie conference is still wide open, with the Waratahs, Rebels and Brumbies all having the ability to top the conference.

      None of them have been great teams so far, and so it will depend on who can finish the season the strongest. The Tahs’ next set of matches are awful.

      Will Folau coming back be beneficial, or will all the stress he’s under affect his game?

      • Roar Guru

        April 22nd 2018 @ 10:56am
        jeznez said | April 22nd 2018 @ 10:56am | ! Report

        Hopefully the Folau circus is behind us. Izzy the player coming in for Newsome would have given the team that bit more punch. The Tahs would possibly have managed some points early in the match if IF was out there.

        The Aussie conference will be interesting. If the Tahs can beat all their internal competition then they’d hang on to the lead. The results against the Kiwis coming up really give the indicator of how deep in the competition the team could go.

        On current evidence whoever tops the Aussie conference look likely to be bundled out in the first week.

        • April 22nd 2018 @ 12:15pm
          Fionn said | April 22nd 2018 @ 12:15pm | ! Report

          On current evidence the semi finalists will be the Crusaders, Hurricanes, Chiefs and Lions.

          Were they the four semi finalists last year?

        • Roar Guru

          April 22nd 2018 @ 12:36pm
          PeterK said | April 22nd 2018 @ 12:36pm | ! Report

          Newsome was terrible.

          Even an out of sorts Folau would be an improvement.

          I still think it more likely than not that no oz super rugby team will beat any nz one, which I thought from the beginning of the comp.

          Gibson’s selection of light mobile forwards has been found out.

          It was fine against the oz teams because the tahs were fitter.

          As soon as they have come up against a bigger strong pack that was also fit there was no where to hide.

          Agree whichever oz team makes the final will probably be bundled out if they are playing a nz side. They would have a good chance against the second best SA side or second best oz side since only 4 NZ teams will make the finals.

    • April 22nd 2018 @ 8:24am
      Ken Catchpole’s Other Leg said | April 22nd 2018 @ 8:24am | ! Report

      Fair question James, and fair analysis.(fair as in accurate and balanced)
      And fair performance from Tahs (fair as in just above ‘fail’)

      There was as you point out a lot of one trick pony plays out there last night. No plan B, or C.
      It took the Rebels with all of their courageous flair to show any signs of OZ life. (I said life, not success)
      There was little to enjoy in the Tahs failure to fire a shot. We’ve been talking here about the Reds’lack of tries from poor attack planning and selection- then the Tahs offer up this to home fans !?!
      What went wrong?
      Hooper was all upbeat after the defeat. He gets points for prospecting for silver linings. But no points on field.
      Was it the Izzy drama that has distracted the squad?
      What explanation did Gibson offer?

      • Roar Guru

        April 22nd 2018 @ 9:28am
        Machooka said | April 22nd 2018 @ 9:28am | ! Report

        ‘Was it the Izzy drama that has distracted the squad?’… yeah Ken, I did have similar thought, but was loathed to say so. And to be fair, hell, it must’ve had some effect eh! 😉

      • Roar Guru

        April 22nd 2018 @ 11:00am
        jeznez said | April 22nd 2018 @ 11:00am | ! Report

        Haven’t seen the official post match comment on the Tahs website yet. Look forward to seeing what they say.

        I didn’t bother to watch the post match – what did Hooper say? What did he possibly find to be positive about? It has to burn not just to lose but to get pantsed to zero has to cut to the bone.

        • April 22nd 2018 @ 12:35pm
          Ed said | April 22nd 2018 @ 12:35pm | ! Report

          Good points Jez.

          Here are Hooper’s quotes:

          “It’s burning,” Hooper said. “We’ve got to take those opportunities. They’re the top of the conference. Disappointing but we certainly did create opportunities.

          “We’re not up to the standard. I don’t think the scoreboard reflects how close we were there in that game. It’s really frustrating because we pressured them so well in the first half. I thought we dominated the first half despite being down 7-0. The Lions are a really good team. When we got into their half we turned the ball over. We need to be clean and crisper there.”


          • Roar Guru

            April 22nd 2018 @ 3:18pm
            jeznez said | April 22nd 2018 @ 3:18pm | ! Report

            At least he recognises the turnovers as a key problem.

    • Roar Guru

      April 22nd 2018 @ 8:57am
      Machooka said | April 22nd 2018 @ 8:57am | ! Report

      Nice summary of the season so far jeznez for those infuriating Tahs. Impossible Tahs.

      I was one who had very little expectations for these 2018 Gibbo coached Tahs until they smashed the Rebels a few rounds ago. It was then I thought they were capable of winning more than a few, rather than losing more than a few this season.

      But then came this past Saturday’s game against the Lions, a team that’s been finalists for the last couple of seasons, and are a team the present pride of SA rugby. And like wtf happened?

      Apart from stating the bleeding obvious… we didn’t even score a point. We got done to zip. Nada. Nothing!

      And then to make matters worse we had a ‘whose handbag is that’ thingy contest… after ffs the actual contest!

      You’re correct in saying the first 20 mins was a strong hit -out but that was as far it went… what about the last 60 mins Tahs??

      Anyhow, well done Lions on your win… thoroughly deserved.

      • Roar Guru

        April 22nd 2018 @ 11:04am
        jeznez said | April 22nd 2018 @ 11:04am | ! Report

        I was very impressed by the Lions – can see why they are top of their log. Jantjes showed the resilience to trust the systems. He started poorly struggling to find touch with the boot but then nailing it with a passing effort that went straight over his man’s head.

        Elton stuck at it though and trusted the systems they played under and things began to click. The Tahs put their heads down and with the number of senior players being such experienced Wallabies that was a pretty poor look.

        That isn’t just on the captain – there were plenty of senior leaders out there to help keep the team focused and on their game.

    • April 22nd 2018 @ 10:35am
      Dean said | April 22nd 2018 @ 10:35am | ! Report

      Yep, looks like the “lightweight pack” concerns were well founded after all. It says something when the coach tried to beef up the pack for this game by bringing in…Tom Staniforth!

      One guy who did seem to make an impact when he eventually came on was Jed Holloway. Has he been getting limited game time due to form or injury? Wells has a great workrate, but I think he’s now showing the effects of injury and tiredness from recent efforts, and he has never had the impact required for an 8.

      Also credit where it’s due. A big part of the Tahs problems at the breakdown were due to sensational performances from Malcolm Marx and Kwagga Smith.

      • Roar Guru

        April 22nd 2018 @ 11:10am
        jeznez said | April 22nd 2018 @ 11:10am | ! Report

        Yeah – I was worried when I saw Tom on the teamsheet, his defining moment of the season so far has been getting sat on his backside by the 83kg Nico Sanchez.

        I think Holloway has been good all season – he has been on the bench as Gibson is massively set on playing the higher workrate players. The number of involvements, rather than impact in them has been the clear philosophy guiding selection.

        The options are there to pick a much more combative pack:

        Johnson-Holmes, Latu, Kepu
        Meafua, Holloway, Simmons, Hooper

        Bench: Ryan, Fitzpatrick, Vui, Staniforth, Hanigan

        The lighter weight guys can come and give a lift in pace later.

        Marx and Smith were excellent – guys like Schoeman coming in late really lifted the team as well.

        • Roar Guru

          April 22nd 2018 @ 12:42pm
          PeterK said | April 22nd 2018 @ 12:42pm | ! Report


          Fine start with involvement over impact if that is your preferred philosophy but if it is not working where do you go?

          Have a bench that can counter power and have impact players there.

          If they only have to play 20 or 30 mins you will get the involvements anyway.

          Also Robertson shown up again in the scrum.

          I would have Latu at the minimum on the bench and Robertson on the bench at best.

        • April 22nd 2018 @ 1:54pm
          Dean said | April 22nd 2018 @ 1:54pm | ! Report

          Who is this Meafua of whom you speak? And are you suggesting Holloway play as a lock?

      • Roar Guru

        April 22nd 2018 @ 12:40pm
        PeterK said | April 22nd 2018 @ 12:40pm | ! Report

        certainly the new rugby laws have not prevented pilfering nor counter rucking, no need to try and hold up players as they moved to wards in the NH

      • April 22nd 2018 @ 12:44pm
        RTT said | April 22nd 2018 @ 12:44pm | ! Report

        Agree Holloway did look good when he came on. Sadly he didn’t take his chance earlier in the season when he was starting

    • April 22nd 2018 @ 12:42pm
      RTT said | April 22nd 2018 @ 12:42pm | ! Report

      When the Waratahs win the comp in 2014 they lost 4 games along the way.

      They looked competitive in the 1st half but just couldn’t get into the game in the 2nd.

      It’s not panic stations. They’re still atop of the conference and will remain there by the seasons end. Provided they remain mostly injury free.

      On that note Folau and Dempsey will make a huge boost when they return.

      • April 22nd 2018 @ 1:25pm
        Malo said | April 22nd 2018 @ 1:25pm | ! Report

        We had Pots then, we have Hannigan now , that’s the difference

        • April 22nd 2018 @ 2:01pm
          RTT said | April 22nd 2018 @ 2:01pm | ! Report

          This side we have this year is nit as good as 2014. Agreed. Not just because of pots. AAC, Dave Dennis, Polatau nau, Robinson, Horne, an in form Douglas, are all better players than the current lot. This just shows how well Gibson is doing.

          I still think this 2018 side could surprise everyone come semi final time. They lost to a very good side but the score line flattered them. I can see them making it to the second week of the finals and from there anything can happen.

      • Roar Guru

        April 22nd 2018 @ 2:22pm
        jeznez said | April 22nd 2018 @ 2:22pm | ! Report

        It is the turnovers RTT. You said you didn’t notice them earlier in the season.

        Surely you saw they couldn’t hold the pill Friday night?

        Think the next four games are going to be tough to watch

        • April 22nd 2018 @ 3:11pm
          RTT said | April 22nd 2018 @ 3:11pm | ! Report

          The next 4 games are going to be awesome to watch.

          Will we win all of them. No but being a fan is more than spitting the dummy when your team has a bad day at the office.

          Against the lions we didn’t take our chances early and lost momentum struggling to wrestle it back. but on another day it may have been a different story.

          The players you mention that need to be the starting pack are duplicitous.

          • Roar Guru

            April 22nd 2018 @ 3:19pm
            jeznez said | April 22nd 2018 @ 3:19pm | ! Report

            The players are duplicitous?

            Care to explain?

            • April 22nd 2018 @ 4:15pm
              RTT said | April 22nd 2018 @ 4:15pm | ! Report

              They may appear to be the answer but that is not true

              We would get worse results if they were the staring 8

              The grass is always greener

              • Roar Guru

                April 22nd 2018 @ 4:34pm
                jeznez said | April 22nd 2018 @ 4:34pm | ! Report

                So you aren’t calling them two faced? That is good to know.

                And lucky you are here to miss half the action on the field but still give us your pearls of wisdom from on high.

              • April 22nd 2018 @ 4:45pm
                RTT said | April 22nd 2018 @ 4:45pm | ! Report


              • Roar Guru

                April 22nd 2018 @ 5:07pm
                jeznez said | April 22nd 2018 @ 5:07pm | ! Report

                Your words from on high:

                “We would get worse results if they were the staring 8” you make the statement with nothing to support it.

                At least you aren’t calling the players two faced – maybe just check a dictionary definition of duplicity. The word doesn’t mean what you seem to think it does.

                Missing half the action – you told me last week that you hadn’t noticed the turnovers the team has been conceding. You clearly aren’t watching the breakdown.

              • April 22nd 2018 @ 7:19pm
                RTT said | April 22nd 2018 @ 7:19pm | ! Report

                Im using the word in a collective generic sense, and as for dictionary meaning there is more than one way to use it in a sentence.

                It always appears to be the case the might has right in the rugby world but that’s a very simplistic view.

                And as for basing opinions on nothing more Than a whim, you yourself advocated picking someone because hey ‘look’ like they could be what we need

              • April 22nd 2018 @ 7:29pm
                RTT said | April 22nd 2018 @ 7:29pm | ! Report

                And as for turnover. All teams concede turnovers particularly when they play expansively. With much less possession we almost matched the lions with run metres.

                As for ruck success it was 89%. A bit low. Hardly a disaster. We conceded 24 turnovers. They conceded 21. Again it’s hardly a disaster.

                Our line out wasn’t it’s best. Our scrum was good until our subs came on.

                Really there was no single thing to finger point at. It was just a bad day at the office.

              • Roar Guru

                April 22nd 2018 @ 11:02pm
                jeznez said | April 22nd 2018 @ 11:02pm | ! Report

                RTT, it is ok to admit you picked the wrong word.

                With regard to the rucks – I think you are using the ESPN Scrum stats? I thought I counted more than the six misses they report so am a little sceptical.

                Even by their metrics they have the Lions winning 80/80 – that has to be telling that we didn’t get them to lose a single ruck?

                As I said in the article – we frequently had to put three players in to secure possession while they often managed it with just one.

                I’m not purely advocating for “might is right” but we need a bit more physicality than the current crop are able to produce so should be looking to see how our other squad members can perform.

                Or do you think Taqele Naiyaravoro being used as the tight ball carrier is because the current pack are so strong on the carry?

          • Roar Guru

            April 22nd 2018 @ 3:56pm
            Machooka said | April 22nd 2018 @ 3:56pm | ! Report


            This is like some comic book retort… ‘Commissioner; get the Bat on the phone.’

            Duplicitous… ‘I see you’re lips flapping, RTT, but you ain’t making sound I want to hear.’ Penguin

    • April 22nd 2018 @ 3:16pm
      Malo said | April 22nd 2018 @ 3:16pm | ! Report

      The Tahs will walk into the semis , then get walked out.

      • April 22nd 2018 @ 9:19pm
        RTT said | April 22nd 2018 @ 9:19pm | ! Report

        And that will be better than all other aussiesudes and better than most other franchises

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