2017 was a dismal year for the once proud Waratahs. They lost 11 of their 15 games and finished way down in 16th position on the overall log.
For a team loaded with stars such as Michael Hooper, Israel Folau, Bernard Foley, and Rob Horne, they were quite atrocious on the field of play. There were many that called for the head of coach Daryl Gibson after it appeared that he had “lost the dressing room” and was unable to motivate his team to even make a fist of it in some games. It was simply not good enough. Period.
Somehow Gibson has been given another chance to get the Tahs firing on all cylinders.
It will not be easy, but Gibson does have a somewhat easier season opener than he would have initially thought. His team starts with a home game against an injury depleted Stormers, who will be missing a host of their big-name stars. If the Tahs can get off to a running start they might just have a better season ahead of them.
Analysing their performances in 2017, it is fairly easy to spot their single biggest problem. Their Defence was embarrassingly atrocious! They coughed up no less than 68 tries and a total of 522 points in 15 games. That averages at 34,8 points per game, all season long! Perhaps the worst performances were their 26-24 shock loss to the Kings, and a 40-27 home loss to the Jaguares! And then there was the 40-11 loss to the Force!
On one word, the 2017 Waratahs were woeful!
What then of 2018?
The Waratah’s 2018 campaign starts with a bye, and then a home game against the Stormers, then they hit the road to South Africa and the Sharks, fly on to Argentina for the Jaguares, and then back home to Australia and the Rebels. They then have another bye weekend, play the Brumbies in Canberra and then it is off to Japan for the Sunwolves, back to OZ for the Reds, the Lions, and the Blues, and then over to New Zealand.
Four consecutive Saturdays playing New Zealanders, after the Blues at home they hop across the pond for the Crusaders, and the Highlanders, and then back home to face the Chiefs.
The draw has been kind to them, they only play New Zealand teams four times, twice at home, and twice away.
Their season peters out with the Reds, Rebels, Sunwolves and finally the Brumbies.
On-field prospects revolve around a number of key players. The leadership and motivation of Michael Hooper will be paramount, last year he was found wanting as an on-field leader when it was obvious that his team was thoroughly disinterested in their jobs. He just could not seem to motivate anyone at all.
The permanent arrival of Kurtley Beale and his interplay with Israel Folau will be interesting to watch, especially of Bernard Foley can generate some enthusiasm for the game again. The Iceman was defrosting somewhat last year.
The focus and form of Rob Simmonds, signed from the Reds, will be watched with interest. When he is focussed he is one of the best line-out forwards in the world. When his focus blurs he has a penchant for red cards, penalties, and wayward moments. The jury is out on whether he was a worthwhile signing after being dumped by the Reds.
The retirement of Stephen Moore and the departure of Tatafu Polota-Nau from Australian shores has left Michael Cheika in need of a Wallaby hooker. Perhaps this will serve to motivate Tolu Latu in 2018?
The Waratahs have the name-players. They have the ability and talent to turn things around in 2018. This will require some serious attitudinal adjustments. The players will need to accept that playing professional rugby is not a job in the civil service where performance is not considered an issue.
And then there is that leaky defence…………………
I remain sceptical about a number of Waratah personnel. Their coach, Daryl Gibson, has a job of work on hand to prove that he is capable of recapturing the attention and loyalty of the player squad. Michael Hooper has to step up as a leader of men, not just a bustling loose cannon hunting across the entire field and questioning every decision made by a referee.
Kurtley Beale will need to show that self-interest is less important than the team’s welfare.
Discipline is the key, and this is where they failed miserably in 2017.
I would suggest that 2018 will be better than 2017, but that the Tahs will still only manage 2nd on the Aussie log. No playoff in 2018.