Captains' call: love the game, and the wins will come
Chins up … three former captains say the Tahs need passion. Photo: Getty Images
Having been associated with the Waratahs for 13 seasons as a player and recently in a coaching role, albeit small, I - we - have taken some criticism over the years.
I thought, with the current Waratahs predicament, who better to call upon for some direction than three former captains - Phil Kearns, Chris Whitaker and Phil Waugh? No doubt winning is a culture. It cultivates itself and, in the same manner, so does losing. Somehow you just can't get out of a losing rut.
The easiest option when you are losing is to splinter. Finger pointing is one solution but most often times the most destructive. Then the anonymous quotes, the back-stabbing happens. Even if it's hearsay, it gathers legs and people are telling you that you have lost your job. Despite the external sniping, this Waratahs side is a tight bunch - the players have each other's backs in tough times.
In any environment feedback, both positive and negative, is essential to move forward so I thought I would gather the thoughts of these legendary Waratahs captains to be constructive in their appraisal of the Waratahs' season. The overwhelming response was that injuries have certainly cruelled their hopes. Before you jump down my throat and say everyone is dealing with the same scenario, I am looking at this with a shade of blue. I have mentioned before about the gap growing between Super Rugby and club rugby. The difficulty for players to be introduced and exposed at the next level is an eye-opener. The Waratahs have had their fair share of players sidelined and needed to call upon players who would be third, fourth or even fifth in line for the positions in some cases. So are we expecting too much from this beleaguered side?
Chris mentioned "the Waratahs seem to be playing to make everyone else happy but themselves. Don't try and play a game that is not in your skill set because that style is deemed as entertainment. Play to what style you can play. If that style is limited, then do it well, but stick to that game plan." Phil W was adamant it was still a strong squad despite the injuries, and that the new guys are performing. His concern: "Entertaining is critical and can have a different meaning to different people. The idea of entertainment is playing with a high skill level. Completing your plays is the integral part of working to a game plan."
The Waratahs have been hurt badly by simple errors at crucial times. They have been caught at times ''looking around'' waiting for one of the big players to do something special. No doubt confidence is dented. That something special comes with experience and, hopefully, waiting for others will happen less and less. Chris's perception is that throughout the adversity of the season, no player has laid blame on others. "This makes for a tight group. In a way the change will always have a teething period, but take some body blows, spill some blood and come back better next year."
He did reinforce that the Waratahs have at their disposal one of the great thinkers in rugby, Alan Gaffney. Otherwise known as ''Riff'', he has an incredible thought process in reading games and players. Use that knowledge and soak it up as it could be a game changer.
So how do you keep positive in a year that has fallen apart? Phil K spoke to me about culture. About being physically tough but more importantly, mentally tough. If there is a loss, hurt for that loss. We are not here to praise mediocrity. He emphasised the enjoyment of playing the game. "Difficult for the team at the moment because of the succession of losses, but watching enterprising play from the Tahs seems to bring no joy to the players' faces. Show the enthusiasm and love for the game and it comes out in the way you play." I would say the exception is Tom Carter, sometimes over the top - and he won't mind me saying that - but he gets in there and out-enthuses all around him. That grates the opposition and is a great asset to have on your side.
Chris mentioned the same thing. Enthusiasm is contagious and former Waratah Nathan Grey was one of the best. It's a fine line that defines a season and the early losses certainly compounded the pressure to chase but these guys are technically sound in what they do and it's not through lack of effort. Finish this season to the best of your ability and with a high level of skill execution, have fun, enjoy the experience. Then look forward to 2013 with a full compliment of players.