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The Roar


COMMENT: Bizarre selection call that sums up chaos and disconnect at Super Rugby's biggest basket case

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16th May, 2024
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For week now the main question doing the rounds within the Australian rugby ecosystem has been: ‘What the f—k is going on at the Waratahs?’

With a coach on borrowed time, no full-time general manager, players either opting out or wanting to, and a chief executive under some serious heat following a $4.8 million deficit and crowds and memberships falling away as Australia’s biggest Super Rugby franchise limp to the end of the season, the Waratahs appear visionless and lacking serious leadership.

Is it any surprise the Waratahs have two wins from 11 matches?

Before a ball had even been kicked, Darren Coleman was told his future would be sorted one way or another by the end of March.

It wasn’t, and Rugby Australia, having taken over the operations of the Waratahs, opted for another review into the high performance environment at the franchise midway through the season just months after their last.

It meant players and coaches were asked about the practices taking place at the Waratahs just days out from a game.

Waratahs captain Jake Gordon asked for an early release this season as Darren Coleman’s side continued to struggled in 2024. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)


Ultimately, it was decided that Coleman’s future would be decided following the season, with RA and the NSWRU deciding that results wouldn’t be the only measure dictating their decision on whether to extend the coach’s tenure into a fourth year – a Lions year of all things, where the Waratahs should be aiming for a competitive, sold out fixture at Allianz Stadium.

At present though it looks like cubs, not fully grown lions, would trample over these Waratahs.

Although four of the Waratahs’ nine defeats have been by six points or less, that’s an unacceptable record, especially after limping into last year’s finals series where eight of 12 teams qualify for the knockout stages.

The horrific injury toll, including 11 front-rowers, has played a part in that win-loss record but it only tells some of the story.

After all, the Waratahs still had six Wallabies take to the field for their 29-21 loss to the Brumbies last Saturday as well as several fringe Test players including Charlie Gamble and Dylan Pietsch.

Until Angus Bell went down against the Brumbies in Canberra too, the Waratahs were only missing a couple of regulars, including incumbent Wallabies captain Dave Porecki.

The NSW Waratahs have won just two of 11 matches heading into their final three games of the season. (Photo by Luis Veniegra/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)


As head coach, Coleman has worn the brunt of the criticism and headlines, yet the deeper problem is the disconnect between the administration upstairs and the playing group downstairs at Daceyville.

Trust is breaking down between the two, with the Waratahs’ playing group wanting an idea of who will be coaching them in 2025.

They shouldn’t have the final say on it – after all this is a side that has been underperforming ever since Daryl Gibson took over from Michael Cheika in 2016 – but given the uncertainty up in the air regarding the head coach and playing list, decisions must be made.

It’s time for Waratahs CEO Paul Doorn to show he’s worth his salt or move on.

When the Reds decided to replace Brad Thorn last year, they announced 2023 would be his final season in charge midway through their campaign.

The decision gave clarity to everyone, including the players, who wanted change, but it also saw them rally behind Thorn.


It helped galvanise them and the togetherness of the group showed during their stunning win over the Chiefs in New Plymouth, before almost backing it up during their quarter-final against the same opponent the following month.

In contrast, the Waratahs have dilly-dallied around Coleman’s future and it’s helped no one, including the beleaguered head coach who wants to plan for what’s next.

It’s left the playing group feeling frustrated and fed up, especially with those upstairs at Waratahs HQ.

NSW Waratahs CEO Paul Doorn and Rugby Australia CEO Phil Waugh at Daceyville on November 14, 2023. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

No wonder Jake Gordon, who is set to play his 100th Super Rugby fixture this weekend against the Force, has been exploring his options for months.

He isn’t the only one either, with several others within the Waratahs currently considering their options.

Only last week, influential figures in the game were trying to ease the anxiety and anger within the playing group.


Already Ned Hanigan and Will Harrison have decided to leave.

Money has played a part in those decisions, with Harrison staying at the Waratahs on peanuts in 2024, but the culture at the Waratahs has too.

Perplexingly, too, Harrison, who is off to Kintetsu at season’s end, continues to be picked ahead of Tane Edmed despite the latter’s future at the franchise being in the balance as he weighs up whether to stay or leave.

Part of Edmed’s decision-making will come down to whether Carter Gordon, who is off contract and could be forced to leave the Rebels should the Super Rugby franchise be wound up, joins the Waratahs.

If it isn’t wound up, the Waratahs could be left without both Gordon and Edmed because sooner rather than later the NSW fly-half must decide on whether to stay or go. It could happen before the decision on the Rebels’ future is made.

Even if several players from the Rebels end up finding their way to Sydney in much the same way the Force contingent ended up at Melbourne, bonds and cultures aren’t forged overnight. They take years to build.

Tane Edmed’s future at the Waratahs is up in the air. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)


The uncertainty over the Waratahs’ next head coach isn’t helping either.

Former Wallabies coach Cheika, who is the franchise’s only Super Rugby-winning mentor, is the only available figure who is proven of making an immediate impact and easing the anxiety within the playing ranks.

Stephen Hoiles, who hasn’t been spoken to by anyone at Rugby Australia about his blossoming future, is the best up-and-coming coach but is already attracting significant interest overseas.

Jason Gilmore, who is the Australia A head coach and has been at the Waratahs since 2020, is also exploring options overseas with England looming as a possible destination.

Australian men’s sevens coach John Manenti, who previously applied for the role but was beaten by Coleman, is the outsider. He will likely be available too, given his Olympic campaign will be over by the start of August.

The favourite to take over from Coleman, Nathan Grey, hasn’t been a head coach at a professional side and led the Junior Wallabies less than 20 games since finishing up as Cheika’s assistant with the Wallabies at the end of 2019.

Nonetheless, it’s left few with confidence about the direction the Waratahs are heading ten years after their first – and only – Super Rugby title in 2014.


What is increasingly apparent though is that the Waratahs can’t afford another rebuilding job, especially given their importance within the Australian rugby landscape.

But that appears the way they’re headed up unless strong and smart decisions are made.