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The Waratahs' leaders, not Israel Folau, have led to this disastrous season

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17th June, 2019
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I was chatting to a (former) Waratahs tragic about the pathetic performance of his team going down to the Highlanders 49–12 in a ‘must-win with bonus points’ match on Friday night.

“At least we won’t have to put up with any more garbage play from them until next year,” he sighed.

“For this relief much mercy,” I told him.

But in the context of the Waratahs brand and, more importantly right now, the prospects of the Wallabies in the coming Rugby World Cup tournament in Japan, the collapse of what should a premier side in Australian rugby is a devastating business.

Even Paul Cully, an ardent booster of the Waratahs who even found gold in the fallout of the Israel Folau matter in the form of Kurtley Beale at fullback, is dismayed.

In his Sun-Herald column on Sunday, after getting in his usual dig at those who disagree with some of his views, he wrote this about the Waratahs capitulation to a jittery Highlanders side:

“Dancing on the grave of Australian rugby has become a sport in its own right. It’s hard to stomach because you get the sense that some people, with supposedly the game’s interests at heart, enjoy that dance far too much. But what we all saw on Friday night, and the week before was sad and worrying.”

Now that writers like myself have the approval of Paul to be critical of the Waratahs, here goes with my take on what has gone wrong and why.

The rot set in early this year when the Waratahs CEO Andrew Hore addressed the coming season for the Waratahs with gobbledygook nonsense that made no rugby sense.

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In the SMH article headed ‘Waratahs CEO Andrew Hore opens up on the future of Daryl Gibson and Super Rugby,’ he told the SMH’s chief rugby writer Georgina Robinson this:

“At the moment, the big problem we’ve got is people don’t feel that they’ve been loved enough and cared for. That’s our big problem …”

He went on to insist, despite the fact that Gibson had had a very poor 2018 as head coach, that “you cannot make knee jerk reactions. They create instability, and your organisation plummets into a tailspin … Since the final whistle last year that man has been through a massive transformation.”

Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson.

Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson. (AAP Image/ David Rowland)

Where were the Key Performance Indicators that any chief executive would put in place for coach Gibson to fulfil? None apparently.

“The results would have to be dire,” he said for him to contemplate sacking Gibson.

Well, the Super Rugby results in 2019 for the Waratahs were even worse than in 2018.

And who is coaching the Waratahs next year?

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Daryl Gibson.

What does a coach have to do get sacked under the touchy-feely regime of Hore?

Gibson so badly managed the international players in his squad that he came into the final crucial match against the Highlanders, with his side in theory having an outside chance of qualifying for the finals, not being to play any of his front-line Wallabies. Tahs number 10 Mack Mason, a youngster, had played only 67 minutes of rugby for the team in 2019.

In 2018, the Waratahs scored 74 tries in the regular season. Israel Folau scored 11 of them.

In 2019, the Waratahs, with Gibson’s chosen attack coach Chris Whitaker on board, scored only 46.

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In his own six years as attack coach of the Waratahs and later the head coach, Gibson has not produced a single young break-out player, either in the forwards of the backs.

Aren’t good coaches supposed to find and nurture young talent and enhance the abilities of senior players?

None of this has happened on Gibson’s watch.

It is astonishing to me, too, that Gibson and Hore allowed Michael Hooper and Nick Phipps to tell the media that they would not play or did not want to play again with Israel Folau.

Israel Folau

Israel Folau (Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

To my mind, this is a serious breach of the Code of Conduct that both these players signed as Waratahs and Wallabies.

In effect, they made a Pentecostal Christian who is prepared to express his religious views in public a rugby ‘untouchable,’ as far as they are concerned.

It is not as if Hooper and Phipps are complete cleanskins in these matters of judging appropriate conduct for a rugby player.

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Hooper supported Kurtley Beale after the off-field drama involving a female employee of Rugby Australia, Di Patston.

Phipps, who was celebrating his buck’s night, was thrown out of a packed upstairs section of the Woollahra Hotel in April 2018 for urinating on the bar. A witness said Phipps was ‘dressed as a cow.’

Both Hooper and Phipps should have been censured by coach Gibson and CEO Hore for their blackballing of Folau.

Players should not decide who should play or not be allowed to play for their team. And this is especially the case when religion is involved.

Nor should they be commentating about the quality of their coaches.

Phipps was the captain of the Waratahs for their dismal performance against the Highlanders.

After the match, he told journalists that Daryl Gibson was ‘absolutely’ the right man to coach the side.

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Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?

Despite obvious flaws in his play – he kicked away too much ball against the Highlanders for instance – Phipps has generally been the first-choice halfback for the Waratahs this year.

And guess what, he re-cycled the Andrew Hore nonsense about Gibson would grow into the job in the off-season: “It’s been a disappointing year and he will be hurting as much as anyone. It’s a good opportunity for him to get better in the off-season and grow and take this new squad to new heights.”

Fortunately for the Waratahs, Phipps is moving on to the London Irish club next year.

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But the failed leadership group that has damaged the Waratahs brand – Andrew Hore, Daryl Gibson and Michael Hooper – are still in place.

I was going to say, God help the Waratahs in 2020 with this crew of leadership no-hopers.

But in this era where some Biblical injunctions are out of bounds, I’ll take this back.

Perhaps only a miracle (is this allowable?) can save the Waratahs from another year of disasters.