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Crouch, touch … re-engage

Date

The Waratahs, Super Rugby's most dysfunctional franchise, have a new man at the helm, writes Georgina Robinson.

No Mr Nice Guy ... Michael Cheika wants to balance flair with a ''bit of dog'' to get the Waratahs on song and the ...

No Mr Nice Guy ... Michael Cheika wants to balance flair with a ''bit of dog'' to get the Waratahs on song and the crowds back in the stands. Photo: Brendan Esposito

IT'S time to toughen up and put the Waratahs first. That's the overriding message delivered to players by a host of Australian and NSW rugby greats who spoke to the Herald about where new coach Michael Cheika should begin his three-year bid to turn around Australian rugby's worst underperformers.

Simon Poidevin and Eddie Jones believe players must bleed for the sky blue before they entertain aspirations of Test greatness.

Mark Ella says Cheika needs to reteach the basics in his squad before injecting some of the Randwick flair.

Morgan Turinui thinks the players should pack up and leave if they can't accept the pressure and scrutiny that comes with being a Waratah, while Tim Gavin says nothing brings crowds through the gates like men ''having a real dig'' for their state.

All agree NSW has the talent to match it with the best in the world and Cheika is the state's best opportunity in years to make good on that unfulfilled promise. But it all starts with attitude.

''What the players will see from Michael is that he hates losing more than anyone, more than any other player, he just hates it,'' says Turinui, a former Waratahs and Wallabies centre who played under Cheika at Stade Francais last season.

''It's not a fear of losing, it's just a desire to win and be successful … hopefully the biggest thing he'll bring is that habit of success and that desire for it.''

 

BACK TO BASICS

Cheika has talked this week about balancing flair with ''a bit of dog'' and out of it fashioning a new Waratahs style. Jones says his Randwick stablemate should get his men fit first up.

''The evidence shows that they weren't [fit] and clearly Queensland and the Brumbies, in strength and conditioning, were well ahead of the other provinces,''

he says.

Ella agrees. The former Wallabies five-eighth, who played for Randwick and NSW, says Cheika needs to pare it back.

''While [the squad] might have made a large contribution to the Wallabies, our performances as Waratahs didn't reflect that, our skill level was poor,'' Ella says. ''One of the fundamentals of rugby, no matter the era, is to be able to catch, pass and run the right angles under pressure. If I was Michael Cheika I would go way back to basics and start all over again. Once he thinks they've got enough skills you can be a little more complicated in how you coach.''

 

THE HALVES

Now coaching the Japanese national team, Jones says the Waratahs paid the price last season of not finding a quality halfback/five-eighth combination.

Cheika's predecessor, Michael Foley, was well aware of the issue and had earmarked Bernard Foley as a successor to Berrick Barnes in the No.10 jersey. Jones disagrees. ''[Foley] is an out and out 15 to me, he's an instinctive player, he's a runner of the ball, not a passer or an organiser,'' he says.

''Berrick is going to be the best 10 they've got, so they've got to settle on him and play him and give him a nine that wants to give him the ball quickly, not run it himself.''

 

HARDEN UP

Poidevin, a former Wallabies captain and Goulburn-raised Waratahs breakaway, was excited by Cheika's hard-nosed attitude at the announcement of his appointment and says it bodes well for the Waratahs.

''If you play for this team you're going to have to be tough, you're going to have to be resilient and you're going to have to train hard,'' he says.

''Players who think they can preserve their longevity by just ticking along are not going to work here … Michael Cheika's looking for fighters, not journeymen. I think you'll see fitness levels and mental toughness go to levels we haven't seen before at the Waratahs.''

Turinui knows the value of toughness - both mental and physical - to a Waratah. The 30-year-old played at outside centre in the 2005 team that lost to the Crusaders in the then Super 12 final.

His captain was Chris Whitaker and his teammates were an assortment of hard-heads, including Phil Waugh, Rocky Elsom, Brendan Cannon, Al Baxter, Justin Harrison, Dan Vickerman, Mat Rogers and Matt Dunning.

''The truth is, no other team is scrutinised like the Waratahs and if the players haven't accepted that then they'd better hurry up and do it because there's no point whinging about it,'' Turinui says.

''The good Waratahs teams are the teams that have the players that can cope with those external pressures and still perform on the field.

''You look at some of the players in the good times - times we made finals, times when we had 40,000 people at home games consistently - look at the strong characters they had.''

 

WARATAHS FIRST

Strength comes from belief and passion. Poidevin has observed a disturbing shift in mentality at Moore Park.

''There's a bit of a worrying culture out there among some players that we jump from club or under-20s rugby straight into the Wallabies and bypass your state,'' he says. ''That's certainly not the mentality in Queensland. Queenslanders are proud to play for Queensland, more so sometimes than playing for Australia. We've got to get the same culture back into the Waratahs.''

Jones, a former Wallabies coach and Springboks technical coach, seizes on the regular selection of at least half a dozen Waratahs in Test squads and wonders where players' priorities lie.

''Do they want to play for the Waratahs first and then the Wallabies, or the other way around, do they want to be Wallabies and just fit the Waratahs in around that,'' he says. ''If they're like that they've got the wrong players and they might have to shift a few of them.''

 

HEARTS AND MINDS

Former Waratahs captain Tim Gavin, now the president of the NSW Rugby Union, believes if Cheika makes sure he has a squad full of Waratahs who want to be Waratahs, the crowds will return.

''[You win back supporters] by playing a standard of football you're proud of and playing it with the passion that is required to reach out to people,'' Gavin says. ''Supporters just like to see people having a real dig, that's what gets them through the gate.''

They're not coming at the moment, that's for sure. While the Reds can boast a championship, 30,000-plus members and the beginnings of Ewen McKenzie's empire, the Waratahs' battle for crowds and supporters is an oft-sung lament.

''They just seem so far removed from their fan base,'' Ella says. ''The pressure they were under didn't help them but they've got to re-engage with their fans because they're so far off it's harmful for the team.''

Turinui says Cheika is the man to turn the tide.

''He's big on 'what's rugby without emotion?', without that attachment to your supporter base,'' the 30-year-old says. ''And that's very much him, he's quite an emotional person … he's a good balance between the pre-professional era and the professional era.''

 

LET HIM AT IT

Jones saves his harshest critique for the Waratahs administration. He acknowledges the difficulties of running a team in a big city with three competing winter football codes. But if Cheika is to succeed, Jones says, the board and head office need to stay out of their star recruit's way. ''[The Waratahs] are one of the most dysfunctional franchises in the history of Super Rugby and that's the reality,'' Jones says.

''We're talking about not winning a competition with the most resources, the most money and the most talent, it's quite unbelievable. But they've made a good choice in Cheika and now they need to let him get on with it.''

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Super Rugby 2016

Round 1
Fri, 26 FebTimes shown AEDT
BLU 0vs HIG 0 17:35EP
BRU 0vs HUR 0 19:40GIO Stadium
Sat, 27 FebTimes shown AEDT
CHT 0vs Jagu 0 04:00FSS
Sunw 0vs LIO 0 15:15Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium
CRU 0vs CHF 0 17:35AMI
WAR 0vs RED 0 19:40AS
FOR 0vs REB 0 21:50nib Stadium
Sun, 28 FebTimes shown AEDT
King 0vs SHA 0 00:00NMBS
STO 0vs BUL 0 02:05DHL Newlands
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Fri, 04 MarTimes shown AEDT
CRU 0vs BLU 0 17:35AMI
BRU 0vs WAR 0 19:40GIO Stadium
Sat, 05 MarTimes shown AEDT
CHF 0vs LIO 0 15:15FMG Stadium Waikato
HIG 0vs HUR 0 17:35FBS
RED 0vs FOR 0 19:40SS
Sun, 06 MarTimes shown AEDT
BUL 0vs REB 0 00:00Loftu
CHT 0vs STO 0 02:05FSS
SHA 0vs Jagu 0 04:10GpKP
View All Fixtures
Round 3
Fri, 11 MarTimes shown AEDT
BLU 0vs HUR 0 17:35EP
FOR 0vs BRU 0 22:05nib Stadium
Sat, 12 MarTimes shown AEDT
HIG 0vs LIO 0 17:35FBS
REB 0vs RED 0 19:40AAMI
Sunw 0vs CHT 0 21:50Singapore National Stadium
Sun, 13 MarTimes shown AEDT
King 0vs CHF 0 00:00NMBS
STO 0vs SHA 0 02:05DHL Newlands
View All Fixtures
Round 4
Fri, 18 MarTimes shown AEDT
HUR 0vs FOR 0 17:35Central Energy Trust Arena
WAR 0vs HIG 0 19:40AS
Sat, 19 MarTimes shown AEDT
BUL 0vs SHA 0 04:00Loftu
Sunw 0vs REB 0 15:15Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium
CRU 0vs King 0 17:35AMI
RED 0vs BLU 0 19:40SS
Sun, 20 MarTimes shown AEDT
LIO 0vs CHT 0 02:05Emirates Airlines Park
STO 0vs BRU 0 04:10DHL Newlands
Jagu 0vs CHF 0 09:00Estadio Jose Amalfitani
View All Fixtures
Round 5
Fri, 25 MarTimes shown AEDT
HUR 0vs King 0 17:35WS
Sat, 26 MarTimes shown AEDT
CHF 0vs FOR 0 17:35FMG Stadium Waikato
REB 0vs HIG 0 19:40AAMI
Sunw 0vs BUL 0 21:50Singapore National Stadium
Sun, 27 MarTimes shown AEDT
CHT 0vs BRU 0 00:00FSS
SHA 0vs CRU 0 02:05GpKP
Jagu 0vs STO 0 09:00Estadio Jose Amalfitani
RED 0vs WAR 0 16:05SS
View All Fixtures
Round 6
Fri, 01 AprTimes shown AEDT
HIG 0vs FOR 0 17:35FBS
Sat, 02 AprTimes shown AEDT
LIO 0vs CRU 0 04:00Emirates Airlines Park
BLU 0vs Jagu 0 17:35QBE Stadium
BRU 0vs CHF 0 19:40GIO Stadium
Sun, 03 AprTimes shown AEDT
King 0vs Sunw 0 02:05NMBS
BUL 0vs CHT 0 03:10Loftu
WAR 0vs REB 0 16:05AS
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Round 7
Fri, 08 AprTimes shown AEST
CHF 0vs BLU 0 17:35FMG Stadium Waikato
FOR 0vs CRU 0 21:00nib Stadium
Sat, 09 AprTimes shown AEST
STO 0vs Sunw 0 03:00DHL Newlands
HUR 0vs Jagu 0 17:35WS
RED 0vs HIG 0 19:40SS
Sun, 10 AprTimes shown AEST
SHA 0vs LIO 0 01:05GpKP
King 0vs BUL 0 03:10NMBS
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Round 8
Fri, 15 AprTimes shown AEST
CRU 0vs Jagu 0 17:35AMI
REB 0vs HUR 0 19:40AAMI
Sat, 16 AprTimes shown AEST
CHT 0vs Sunw 0 03:00FSS
BLU 0vs SHA 0 17:35EP
WAR 0vs BRU 0 19:40AS
Sun, 17 AprTimes shown AEST
BUL 0vs RED 0 01:05Loftu
LIO 0vs STO 0 03:10Emirates Airlines Park
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Round 9
Fri, 22 AprTimes shown AEST
HIG 0vs SHA 0 17:35FBS
REB 0vs CHT 0 19:40AAMI
Sat, 23 AprTimes shown AEST
Sunw 0vs Jagu 0 15:15Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium
HUR 0vs CHF 0 17:35WS
FOR 0vs WAR 0 19:40nib Stadium
STO 0vs RED 0 23:00DHL Newlands
Sun, 24 AprTimes shown AEST
King 0vs LIO 0 01:05NMBS
BRU 0vs CRU 0 16:05GIO Stadium
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Round 10
Fri, 29 AprTimes shown AEST
CHF 0vs SHA 0 17:35Yarro
FOR 0vs BUL 0 21:05nib Stadium
Sat, 30 AprTimes shown AEST
HIG 0vs BRU 0 15:15Rugby Park
BLU 0vs REB 0 17:35EP
RED 0vs CHT 0 19:40SS
Sun, 01 MayTimes shown AEST
LIO 0vs HUR 0 01:05Emirates Airlines Park
STO 0vs WAR 0 03:10DHL Newlands
Jagu 0vs King 0 07:00Estadio Jose Amalfitani
View All Fixtures
Round 11
Fri, 06 MayTimes shown AEST
CRU 0vs RED 0 17:35AMI
BRU 0vs BUL 0 19:40GIO Stadium
Sat, 07 MayTimes shown AEST
Sunw 0vs FOR 0 15:15Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium
CHF 0vs HIG 0 17:35FMG Stadium Waikato
WAR 0vs CHT 0 19:40AS
SHA 0vs HUR 0 23:00GpKP
Sun, 08 MayTimes shown AEST
King 0vs BLU 0 01:05NMBS
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Round 12
Fri, 13 MayTimes shown AEST
HIG 0vs CRU 0 17:35FBS
REB 0vs BRU 0 19:40AAMI
Sat, 14 MayTimes shown AEST
HUR 0vs RED 0 17:35WS
WAR 0vs BUL 0 19:40AS
Sunw 0vs STO 0 21:45Singapore National Stadium
Sun, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
CHT 0vs King 0 01:05FSS
LIO 0vs BLU 0 03:10Emirates Airlines Park
Jagu 0vs SHA 0 07:00Estadio Jose Amalfitani
View All Fixtures
Round 13
Fri, 20 MayTimes shown AEST
CRU 0vs WAR 0 17:35AMI
Sat, 21 MayTimes shown AEST
RED 0vs Sunw 0 15:05SS
CHF 0vs REB 0 17:35FMG Stadium Waikato
FOR 0vs BLU 0 19:40nib Stadium
LIO 0vs Jagu 0 23:00Emirates Airlines Park
Sun, 22 MayTimes shown AEST
SHA 0vs King 0 01:05GpKP
BUL 0vs STO 0 03:10Loftu
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Round 14
Fri, 27 MayTimes shown AEST
HUR 0vs HIG 0 17:35WS
WAR 0vs CHF 0 19:40AS
Sat, 28 MayTimes shown AEST
King 0vs Jagu 0 03:00NMBS
BLU 0vs CRU 0 17:35EP
BRU 0vs Sunw 0 19:40GIO Stadium
STO 0vs CHT 0 23:00DHL Newlands
Sun, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
BUL 0vs LIO 0 01:05Loftu
REB 0vs FOR 0 16:05AAMI
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Round 15
Fri, 01 JulTimes shown AEST
CHF 0vs CRU 0 17:35ANZ National Stadium, Suva
BRU 0vs RED 0 19:40GIO Stadium
Sat, 02 JulTimes shown AEST
Sunw 0vs WAR 0 15:15Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium
HUR 0vs BLU 0 17:35WS
REB 0vs STO 0 19:40AAMI
CHT 0vs FOR 0 23:00FSS
Sun, 03 JulTimes shown AEST
LIO 0vs SHA 0 01:05Emirates Airlines Park
King 0vs HIG 0 03:10NMBS
Jagu 0vs BUL 0 07:00Estadio Jose Amalfitani
View All Fixtures
Round 16
Fri, 08 JulTimes shown AEST
BLU 0vs BRU 0 17:35EP
RED 0vs CHF 0 19:40SS
Sat, 09 JulTimes shown AEST
LIO 0vs King 0 03:00Emirates Airlines Park
CRU 0vs REB 0 17:35AMI
WAR 0vs HUR 0 19:40AS
FOR 0vs STO 0 21:45nib Stadium
Sun, 10 JulTimes shown AEST
BUL 0vs Sunw 0 01:05Loftu
SHA 0vs CHT 0 03:10GpKP
Jagu 0vs HIG 0 07:00Estadio Jose Amalfitani
View All Fixtures
Round 17
Fri, 15 JulTimes shown AEST
BLU 0vs WAR 0 17:35EP
RED 0vs REB 0 19:40SS
Sat, 16 JulTimes shown AEST
SHA 0vs Sunw 0 03:00GpKP
CRU 0vs HUR 0 15:15AMI
HIG 0vs CHF 0 17:35FBS
BRU 0vs FOR 0 19:40GIO Stadium
Sun, 17 JulTimes shown AEST
STO 0vs King 0 01:05DHL Newlands
CHT 0vs BUL 0 03:10FSS
Jagu 0vs LIO 0 07:00Estadio Jose Amalfitani
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Round 18
Fri, 22 JulTimes shown AEST
TBC 0vs TBC 0 09:00
TBC 0vs TBC 0 09:00
Sat, 23 JulTimes shown AEST
TBC 0vs TBC 0 09:00
TBC 0vs TBC 0 09:00
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Fri, 29 JulTimes shown AEST
TBC 0vs TBC 0 09:00
Sat, 30 JulTimes shown AEST
TBC 0vs TBC 0 09:00
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Super Rugby Grand Final
Sat, 06 AugTimes shown AEST
TBC 0vs TBC 0 09:00
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Team P W L D +/- Pts
Blues 0 0 0 0 0 0
Waratahs 0 0 0 0 0 0
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Super Rugby 2016
Overall standings
Team P W L D +/- Pts
Brumbies 0 0 0 0 0 0
Chiefs 0 0 0 0 0 0
Crusaders 0 0 0 0 0 0
Force 0 0 0 0 0 0
Highlanders 0 0 0 0 0 0
Hurricanes 0 0 0 0 0 0
Rebels 0 0 0 0 0 0
Reds 0 0 0 0 0 0
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