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Captains' call: love the game, and the wins will come


Matthew Burke

Chins up … three former captains say the Tahs need passion.

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.



7 comments so far

  • Matt, why ask the two Phil's, they are forwards and the problem since day one has been the backline. For too long the choice of which backs to sign up has had a similar ring to it, good defenders but offer very little skill and flair on attack. If you have been watching some of the great tries the Hurricanes backs have been scoring this season you will know the difference and a number of them are very young. Stop signing up the wrong players in your backline.

    Coach's Comment
    Sunshine Coast
    Date and time
    June 10, 2012, 9:00AM
    • Some good points about playing the rugby you can. The QLD Reds played an open attacking, run at all costs style of rugby last year that was thrilling to watch but also got them wins, including the title. Not every team can play that way, certainly the Tahs can't. Barnes or Halangahu at 10 are both conservatives with limited running ability - nothing wrong with that but it sets the tone about the priorities for the team. Carter and Horne are defensive players with little ball playing ability. The back three can run but require work to be done by the inside backs to put them away. I always remember the Boks at the 2007 RWC. They played to their strengths and won the thing. They had a monster forward pack playing a slow, stop/start, territory and set piece game because they didn't have the stamina or ball skills for wide attacking rugby. With a kicking flyhalf in Steyn, they bombed away, pressured the receivers and played off the mistakes for penalties, tries or field position. Boring, but even those simple tatics were executed with great skill and accuracy, something to be admired (and to fall asleep to). Forget about pleasing people. The Tahs should play to their strengths, and they have plenty: A strong forward pack that does well in tight, dominant set pieces, solid defence. They can win games without the flick passes and the coast to coast kick returns with these assets. Forget panic kicks when options are limited. Slow the play, kick accurately with a strong chase and challenge the opposition to work out of their 22. The Tahs are tough enough to win by attrition but not good enough to win with flair.

      John from the Hill
      Date and time
      June 10, 2012, 10:39AM
      • The comment about skill execution is a great one. For mine this has been the worst part of the NSW season (and most of the Australian teams) - our skill execution is so far below the NZ teams it is embarrassing. Too many passes behind players and too many passes going to ground. Too much slow 1 out play. As much as League players get sledged for being 1 dimensional, their catch pass skills are a long way in front of Union players at the moment.

        NZ have been doing flat shallow restarts for 2 seasons now and we saw the Crusaders nail NSW with restarts this year - yet NSW are still doing high deep kicks every time... why haven't we been working on these kick off's?

        I can't help thinking that Australian players at the moment get elevated too quickly and are treated like rock stars without having to really do anything more than do well in the academy games or training sessions (or the gym - S Timani??) This breeds a culture of not having to really strive to play at the top level and excel. The AB's last night were a level so far about Australia that it is scary and the players need to realise they are long way behind their peers and they need to improve their game significantly for us to have regular success v the best teams, whether that's NSW or Australia.

        Todd Johnson
        Date and time
        June 10, 2012, 12:07PM
        • Gees Burkey, it's just plain boring no matter how you wrap it. Tight, error limiting rugby so as to win the percentage game. Even Randwick are at the bottom of the Sydney comp!! Time to run the pill folks!

          Date and time
          June 10, 2012, 1:21PM
          • Excellent article. Play with enthusiasm and to your skill set as we saw this year against the sharks. I can forgive losses, even upsets, but not stupidity. If a plan isn't working change it, resort to something simple. And for heavens sake chuck out any 'fans' who boo when the team kicks. The name supporters is not for naught.

            Qwert Yuiop
            Date and time
            June 10, 2012, 10:46PM
            • I'm sorry but fixing the Waratah's in much simpler than that.. although harder in practice.
              What the Waratah's lack is leadership. Can everyone remember the past few years when Phil Waugh was out injured and the Tah's would capitulate? It wasn't because of his work as a flanker, it was his leadership that was so often sorely missed. While great teams require great teamwork, that teamwork is cemented by a solid leader. No one at the Tah's has even remotely filled this role and it seems as though the coaches cant even identify great leadership potential (by letting Mowen go, look what he has achieved at the Brumbies, given the opportunity)
              It's goign to be a painful few years at the Tah's in my opinion.... but whatever goes down must go up right?......................or is it the other way around?

              Tolerant Jungle
              Date and time
              June 12, 2012, 9:33AM
              • Agree totally. I was never a big Waugh fan at test level but he definitely gave the Tahs the steel to win games that this year have been lost.

                Date and time
                June 14, 2012, 7:49AM

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