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The Roar



Waratahs coaching speculation tells us the NSWRU board is as mad as we feared

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8th March, 2021
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Well, I thought it would take longer than it has.

Another loss will ensure the pressure continues to mount on Waratahs coach Rob Penney, and it’s hard to see how that eases off in a bye week. If anything, it’s quite likely to escalate.

The reaction to last week’s column was surprisingly supportive of Penney remaining in the role going forward, with most readers and comments firmly lining up the management of the game in New South Wales at all levels as being a major reason for the current Waratahs malaise.

But the fact that the narrative before and after the loss to the Western Force last Friday night has been around alternate coaching options for the Waratahs moving forward, rather than what support Penney might need or what can be supplied, has been enlightening.

Initially, there were suggestions from CEO Paul Doorn that “anything was on the table” when it came to offering Penney help in trying to turn things around.

But nothing has materialised since then, and even with a much-improved performance against the Force in going down by four, the dominating narrative now reeks of buck-passing, arse-covering, and good old fashioned rugby self-interest.

We’ll come back to this, though, because I need to take a little deviation for a minute.

I still resist the label of ‘journalist’ even though I have been working in news for several years now, and still maintain that labelling me as such is offensive to those who have trained and gained qualifications in the craft.


I have, however, find myself getting more and defensive of journalists over the years – particularly sports journos, and particularly sports journos I know – when I feel like criticism being thrown their way is a bit rough.

And I do feel that’s becoming the case currently. The rugby media has never been massive, and it’s smaller than ever now, so when collective terms like ‘the Sydney media’ are used in a rugby sense, we are literally only talking about a handful of people.

Which brings me to a point I made in comments on the site last week. News organisations might drive an agenda (see News Limited and Fox Sports’ avoidance of even so much mentioning rugby as a current example), but the journos on the ground are just reporting a story as they find it, or as it comes to them.

So, when we see and hear all this talk about Penney being under pressure, and particularly when there are quotes involved, think about where those quotes are coming from – especially if they’re hidden behind “sources say”.

This is not to suggest that journalists aren’t prone to laziness and going down an easy route. This equally applies to editors too, for what it’s worth.

Scandal sells after all, and a headline sprouting more pressure on an embattled coach is always going to get more eyeballs than a detailed support plan formulated between coach and management to turn a team’s fortunes around.


I don’t outline this to defend anyone, and I don’t necessarily disagree with a lot of Geoff’s points around the coverage of this topic yesterday; I simply make these points to inform from experience that there is often more to a news angle than might first appear.

When we see multiple stories now talking about alternate coaching options being canvassed by the Waratahs, or that there’s concern about what impact their form is having on all-important TV ratings in the first few weeks of a shiny new TV deal, or even if Rugby Australia might have concerns about NSW at a higher level, just think about where that kind of information might be coming from.

Waratahs coach Rob Penney watches on

Rob Penney. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

In separate articles over the weekend, we’ve seen mentions of ‘dream coaching tickets’ to come in and reinvigorate the Tahs and move on from Penney. We’ve seen the idea of current assistant Chris Whittaker being paired up with highly regarded former Waratahs assistant coach Simon Cron, and there’s even been talk of Whittaker and former teammate and another former Waratahs assistant Nathan Grey combining.

There are two logical sources for these type of ‘new direction required’ suggestions: board members desperate to be seen as doing something, in order to maintain their power base, and to a lesser extent, managers trying to get the word out there that their client is keen on the role.

The SMH profile on Cron over the weekend makes me think that both sources are in play at the moment, when it comes to the position the Waratahs find themselves.

And after suggesting last week the NSWRU Board would be stark raving mad if they move on Penney when he’s been hamstrung by so many management decisions it’s not funny, these developments over the past week only confirm these fears.

I had fully expected to read the immortal words, “Rob has the full support of the board” by now, but the fact the board have remained silent while the stories of alternate plans emerge is equally instructive.


And where is the board backing of the CEO’s offer of whatever support Penney needs? In fact, where is some substance to back up the CEO’s offer? Where is the explanation of why the offer wouldn’t extend to the million salary cap dollars suddenly reappearing if Penney asked for it?

Angus Bell and the Waratahs look dejected

Angus Bell and the Waratahs. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, the Chairman supposedly remains out of contact while on a hiking holiday. Are we seriously to believe in 2021 that the Waratahs have no way of even so much as getting a message to him? Are we seriously to believe that Roger Davis would remain uncontactable if, say, a COVID outbreak ripped through Waratahs HQ?

The great shame in all this is that it was a much-improved performance on the field on the weekend.

Penney’s tweaks in the forward pack looked to have an impact, and despite having major reservations when named, I have to concede that Mark Nawaqanitawase impressed in both attack and his general positioning at fullback. These are the sort of positives the Waratahs need to clutch onto and build on in equal measure.

Already, it feels like any Waratahs success this season will be in spite of themselves.

And it seems clear that no mirrors have been found in the NSWRU boardroom as yet.

Brett McKay is back writing for The Roar, and is also writing weekly rugby columns for ABC Sport.