Blossoming Brumbies show up warring Tahs
IT wasn't meant to be this way for the woeful Waratahs this season. When SANZAR scheduled tonight's Waratahs-Brumbies match it was intended to be a warm-up for the local side before the climax of the Australian conference, the Reds playing the Waratahs next week.
But against all the predictions at the beginning of the season, the Brumbies can virtually ensure they capture of the Australian conference if they win at ANZ Stadium.
The Waratahs board has confirmed Michael Foley's future as head coach. The lack of clarity and success in the coaching this season make it important for Foley (and the board) to understand why fundamental changes to the team's culture and the squad need to be made.
An excellent starting point for this change is to compare and then imitate what the new Brumbies coach, Jake White, has done this season with his inexperienced team (609 caps tonight in the starting side) with what Foley has done or not done with an experienced Waratahs squad (1068 caps).
The comparison does not make for pleasant reading if you are a Waratahs supporter and raises justified concerns about Foley as a head coach. White inherited a franchise that was losing on and off the field. It was infected with the player power virus. And it was obsessed with an entitlement factor. The cure? He allowed players like Rocky Elsom to leave. He promoted unlikely but gifted younger players like Jesse Mogg to bring some flair and enthusiasm back to the Brumbies play. Player power was defused by making a Waratahs discard, Ben Mowen, the captain.
They were given an aggressive, driving forward game by Laurie Fisher, the forwards coach, and flat-line back attack by Stephen Larkham, the backs coach. The precise, calm rugby mind of White informs everything the team does.
The result is that last season's no-hopers have scored the most points in the Australian conference (369) and have conceded the least (286).
Compare this with what has happened at the Waratahs this season. The side has got worse the longer the season has gone on. The entitlement factor was immediately brought into play when Foley was appointed and then reappointed coach without a real search for a better-qualified candidate. He has maintained and continues to justify the failed "win ugly" tactics of the Chris Hickey era despite the fact the Waratahs are turning away spectators and the side is losing matches it should be winning.
The team lacks mental and physical toughness. Two of the 10 matches lost by the Waratahs this season have been by one point. Four other matches have been lost for four points or fewer.
Nine Waratahs were members of a Wallabies squad that defeated Wales in all three recent Tests. Berrick Barnes explained: "The environment was good at the Wallabies." What does this suggest about the environment at the Waratahs?
On The Rugby Club on Thursday night, Foley suggested he has learnt from this season's failures. Unfortunately, he didn't explain what the lessons were. So we have to take him on his word. He did justify the selection of the journeyman Dean Mumm ahead of a Wallaby incumbent second-rower Sitaleki Timani on the grounds that Mumm calls the lineouts. This selection, like the Elsom transfer, has a familiar entitlement factor look to it. But to be fair to Foley, the rest of the team for tonight, especially the brand-new halves pairing, looks like a combination that might play attractive and winning rugby, if the coaches have introduced the appropriate systems.