The Waratahs are in a rebuilding stage, there’s no question about that. In their Round 4 clash against the Rebels, Joe Cotton became the 17th player to debut this season alone.
Currently, the Waratahs sit second from the bottom of the Super Rugby AU ladder with their only win against the recently returning Western Force.
It’s clear that the Waratahs are now using Super Rugby AU as a chance to blood some of their younger players. In their last start against the Rebels the starting 15’s average age was only 24.9. But have the Waratahs coaching staff put too much emphasis on youth and left experience out?
This year’s squad has an abundance of young superstars with enormous talent. A large number of them played in the under-20s World Cup final for Australia. However, it is becoming clear that the success of the Junior Wallabies hasn’t transitioned to the Waratahs.
Waratahs coach Rob Penney has had a tough job this season as the Waratahs have seen the departure of some of their most seasoned players. The likes of Kurtley Beale, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Bernard Foley have all played well over 100 Super Rugby matches. The departure of players of this quality is undoubtedly going to affect any side in their performance but arguably the biggest loss for the Waratahs is the experience and guidance that these players can offer to the wealth of young talent at the Waratahs.
This season the Waratahs have only won one match from four in Super Rugby AU and if you include the start of the Super Rugby 2020 competition, they’ve won only two from ten matches.
The question that is beginning to be asked is whether Penney has placed too much faith in his younger players? The results aren’t pretty. It’s no secret that younger players can bring new life and energy to a team however this young team needs direction from senior players.
Some teams in recent years have integrated young players with remarkable success. Brad Thorn has been exceptional at bringing his young flyers into the Reds. Jordan Petaia, Harry Wilson and Tate McDermott have all been brilliant. Wilson leads the competition in carries and McDermott is second in defenders beaten this year. In comparison, the Waratahs’ younger players have taken a while longer to find their feet on the professional stage.
Brad Thorn has slowly and incrementally brought his younger players into the fold by mixing them in with the senior players. This way the younger players aren’t forced to take on as much responsibility or pressure and they can get on with what they do best: play rugby.
As mentioned earlier, the Waratahs haven’t got the experienced players they had last year so they don’t have that option. An easy out would be to buy some experienced players but with the effects of coronavirus, it’s easier said than done.
All things considered, Rob Penney must be applauded for his dedication to the younger players in his squad, and there have been some great improvements. Will Harrison has found confidence in his kicking game and is beginning to steer the team around with authority. The all Sydney University front row looked the best combination of the year against the Rebels. James Ramm has been one of the Waratahs’ best this season, leading the competition in clean breaks and second in defenders beaten.
The Waratahs must now accept that they have to wait a few seasons before they see the fruits of their labour. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Rob Penney has said: “They are trying to learn a lot really quickly. Super Rugby is not a great place to learn your trade.
“A lot of these boys haven’t even played a lot of senior rugby yet and it’s such a shame we can’t send young boys back to the Shute Shield to get more game time.”
Recently, the Waratahs released Triston Reilly, Carlo Tizzano and Joe Cotton back to Shute Shield rugby.
Against the Rebels the Waratahs only held possession for 23 per cent of the match and conceded 17 penalties. That’s only 18.4 minutes with the ball in hand. Those sorts of numbers only come from the absence of experienced players.
This Saturday the Waratahs have a chance to redeem themselves against the Reds after their 32-26 loss in Round 1. Rob Penney has already brought experienced centre Lalakai Foketi back in for this week’s clash.