Rugby: Blues descend on other side of Tasman

By Paul Lewis

The Waratahs have been awful this season.  Photo / Getty Images
The Waratahs have been awful this season. Photo / Getty Images

Throughout this Super Rugby season, the poor form of the Blues has managed to obscure the woeful performance of another set of Blues with the blues - the New South Wales Waratahs.

Supposedly the vanguard of Australian rugby, the Waratahs entered last night's match against the Reds with no hope of making the play-offs and with a season that can best be described as mystifyingly bad. Not only has the win-loss column shown a decided sag to the right, the manner of the Waratahs' play - dead boring - has left fans and analysts cold.

For the most part, they played position and possession, relying on stifling defence and opposition mistakes to kick the goals but, when creativity was needed, the cupboard was embarrassingly bare.

Perhaps their worst moment was when they lost to another Australian franchise which has lost its way this year - the Force, so in need of bolstering that the Australian Rugby Union has decreed they are allowed to add an extra foreign import player next year, an admission of weakness if ever there was one.

The 'Tahs were booed off the field by their fans in Sydney - not so much for the loss but for the almost complete lack of backbone and an inability to master any other style than percentage play.

Look what former Waratahs and Wallby hooker Brendan Cannon had to say in his column in the Sunday Telegraph last week: "Many supporters have already turned their backs in disgust, while those of us who are still interested won't be if there isn't dramatic improvement.

"There can be no repeat of what the team has dished out this year. There has been something fundamentally wrong at the club this season. The team does not play with the desire and passion of the other Australian franchises. Players don't seem to want to put their bodies on the line and tend to put up the white flag. [Head coach Michael] Foley and his team must heed every lesson from this feeble season and put it into practice from the first pre-season session."

Strong words indeed, although Cannon grudgingly approved the Waratahs' rather surprising retention of Foley, after a nightmare debut season, as coach for 2013 - though he said Foley had to get the 'Tahs in the play-offs next season "or he can start packing his bags".

Foley might have been retained but others won't be.

Injury was a factor this year - the Waratahs had perhaps the worst injury list of the season, even worse than that of the Blues. But, just like their Auckland counterparts, that is not the full story. Injuries might have helped save Foley's job but it is clear the Waratahs still had the depth and the personnel to do better than they have this season.

Stalwarts in centre Tom Carter and first five-eighths Daniel Halangahu look set to be forced out, flanker Rocky Elsom is off to Japan, locks Dean Mumm to England, Dan Vickerman will have to retire through injury, and doubts remain over the future of their halfbacks, marquee signing Sarel Pretorius and Brendan McKibbin.

Carter and Halangahu (who captained the side at the start of the season) thought they'd play out their careers at NSW - but neither can now command a starting spot and negotiations with the club have so far failed to yield contract extensions.

Nephew of former All Black coach John Hart, Grayson Hart is in favour and Sevens star Matt Lucas lines up as the other first choice halfback for next year - despite former No 1 halfback Sarel Pretorius having another year left in his contract.

Almost incredibly, Pretorius is to be offered the choice of moving on if he is unhappy with his spot on the bench - a sure sign of a misdirected choice and poor analysis of a player or the malaise that has afflicted the Waratahs this year.

Pretorius was recruited after a stellar 2011 Super Rugby season for the Cheetahs, in which he was named South African player of the year. After starting strongly with his darting running game, Pretorius was benched for McKibbin, who was judged to have a stronger pass.

Waratahs coaches said his passing needed work - something that provokes wonder that Pretorius was chosen in the first place, especially if they were planning to play to such a low-octane, percentage game plan.

Cannon called for a better coaching team that balances each other's strengths and weaknesses, like that of the Brumbies: "Jake White has taken over the [Brumbies] side and instilled a harmonious working environment. White is all about belief. He has instilled as his assistant Laurie Fisher, who was previously head coach. There are not too many coaches who would return to a club in a lesser role, but that is indicative of the culture. What a tremendous apprenticeship for attack coach Stephen Larkham, working alongside a world-class coach in White and a highly efficient strategist in Fisher.

"Everyone expected the board to be more reactionary and oust Foley. It remains to be seen whether stability will flow down to the rest of the coaching team."

- Herald on Sunday

Stats provided by

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf02 at 26 Dec 2014 09:08:36 Processing Time: 431ms