Rugby Union

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Hardy times: Waratahs' slapstick routine no laughing matter

WHAT a fine mess the Waratahs franchise is in. The team manager, Chris Webb, has resigned. The coach, Michael Foley, has defected to a rival franchise. And the chairman of the board, Ed Zemancheff, has stood down without an adequate explanation.

These ructions remind me of a brilliant Laurel and Hardy short film. The two slapstick stars, playing door-to-door salesmen, pull up in a car outside an isolated house. They knock on the door and badger the grumpy occupant to buy their product. The occupant isn't buying. The salesmen keep up the hard sell. In exasperation, the occupant walks to their car and removes a door handle. The salesmen remove the handle to the front door of the house. The occupant takes off the car door. The salesmen take off his front door. In the end, the house is demolished, the car is demolished and the salesmen, wiping their hands in satisfaction, swagger off into the distance.

In a rugby version of this slapstick comedy, Zemancheff and Foley are Laurel and Hardy. The irate householder is Nick Farr-Jones, the chairman of the NSW Rugby Union which has leased the Waratahs franchise to its board. The destroyed car, going nowhere, represents the Waratahs franchise. And the house which needs to be rebuilt is rugby in NSW.

Last week on The Rugby Club, Phil Kearns maintained the slapstick routine. He claimed he was disappointed about Foley walking out, that Zemancheff was always leaving, that the Waratahs board is doing a good job, and that NSWRU needed to have a good look at itself. He also nominated Alan Gaffney, a key member of the failed Waratahs coaching staff, as the next head coach. What was not revealed in this nonsense commentary is that Kearns is on a subcommittee, answerable to the Waratahs board, to select the coach.

But how can NSWRU, and not the separate Waratahs board, be responsible for the falling revenues of the Waratahs, the slump in crowd attendances at matches, an abysmal Waratahs playing record, no coach, player power rampant and the Waratahs administration in a shambles?

Why was the announcement of Foley's defection made by Al Baxter, a recently-retired player and, apparently, the interim chairman of the Waratahs board, rather than by the club's chief executive Jason Allen? Why is Kearns trying to pre-empt what should be a competitive selection process by nominating Gaffney as the next head coach? Why not Michael Cheika, who another Waratahs great Simon Poidevin supports? Or other possibilities like Todd Louden, Tim Lane, Scott Johnson or Steve Meehan? Why has the selection process been so secretive?


The point here is the process of selecting the coach is badly flawed. It should not be the wink-wink nudge-nudge process currently in place. Benn Robinson, the Waratahs captain, is calling for input from the players. Perhaps. There is already too much player power at the Waratahs.

What is really needed is a selection panel that does its work as openly as possible, a new coaching staff and a new administration. Root and branch reform, in other words, along the lines of the intervention in Queensland that led to the revival of the Reds. The best way to achieve this intervention is for Farr-Jones to cancel NSWRU's agreement with Waratahs Rugby. There is no hope of bringing in private investment which was the point of the agreement.

In future, all franchises must allow the ARU to select their coaches. This is what is done by New Zealand Rugby Union. This model is clearly successful. Last season, NZRU appointed Dave Rennie as coach of the under-performing Chiefs. Tonight, the Chiefs are playing their first home ground Super Rugby final.

Meanwhile, there is no hope for the Waratahs, only another week of slapstick antics.