Power up front … Benn Robinson is a stabilising presence on the field. Photo: Getty Images
What a week for the Waratahs. The head coach leaves for a rival franchise, the chairman steps down and some are claiming they can see the abyss from HQ at Moore Park. The real question is, how far off are the Tahs from turning around their worst season for some time? Here are five options that could point the Waratahs in the right direction for 2013.
MAKE BIG BENN CAPTAIN
Since the departure of Phil Waugh last year it seems the team has been left rudderless. It was an interesting decision to make Rocky Elsom captain but it didn't work. A captain is a name that has to be written on the team sheet first each week. Why? because every time they take the field, they are contributing with their actions first and foremost. The off-field leadership stuff comes easily after that. We have seen the import role Benn Robinson plays in making up the powerful front row with Tatafu Polota-Nau and Sekope Kepu, and that ability and stability goes a long way in bringing a sense of unity and control to a team. We saw this year how he was hurting with the defeats. This showed me that his pride has been badly dented and has to be restored both individually and collectively by a team that has a very good playing roster.
RECRUIT TOP-LINE HALVES
For too long now the Waratahs have gone into season after season without a specialist halfback and five-eighth. You have to go way back to the likes of the combination of Nick Farr-Jones and Mark Ella to say that the Tahs had been dominant in that area. That's not to say the boys that have been there don't have talent. Plenty have come and gone, tried hard but only temporarily held onto the jersey. I can tell you how desperate it has got over time. In 2004, I even had a shot at the No.10 role. Injury meant I missed half the season and this is the ongoing problem. Always stopgaps and short-term thinking for a position that will win or lose you games. These two positions are about controlling the game, especially when the pressure is on. The loss of Luke Burgess was bigger than expected and the inability to sit Berrick Barnes in one position has been to the detriment of the team. It's even more baffling when he then produces two man-of-the-match performances in the Test series against Wales at five-eighth. When you look around the other franchises, the successful teams have stability and direction in those two players.
SING FROM SAME SONG SHEET
Accountability in a team environment is something that was pushed on me from coaches when I was growing up - being accountable for your actions on the field but then incorporating that into the team environment. I was hearing that nearing the end of the Tahs' season there were a few rumblings of disapproval of how standards were starting to slip. Understandable from the multiple losses but if there is to be solidarity among the group, everyone has to be open and frank in their assessments of each other. This goes from the rookies through to the leadership group. I mentioned Robinson needs to be captain, so who becomes his deputies? It doesn't necessarily have to be the other Wallabies or senior players. The Waratahs have a great opportunity now to define their culture to take them through the next era. Responsibility lies across all the players to ''do their part'' in all areas of being a professional player from training to recovery to appearances. No special privileges. Until there is a shift in direction, nothing will change.
ENHANCE GAFFNEY'S ROLE
I must admit, I was so excited to see Alan Gaffney's appointment to the Waratahs coaching staff after the World Cup last year. Having had Riff as a coach, I was looking forward to seeing what he could do with this talented back line. As it turned out, not much this year. From all reports, there was limited coaching time afforded to the backs coach. Question to the players: when was the last time you were coached? I bet the response would be, we come to train every day. But how often are you actually coached or taught something, refining your game or tweaking it a little? Players are supposed to know it all once they get contracted, yet there is still so much learning to do. This is what Gaffney will bring. He has a great understanding of when to play flat or deep alignment, short or wide passing. The players then have the responsibility of turning up to training each day and getting better.
FIX THE FRONT OFFICE
It all starts at the board level. Like any business, and in effect what rugby has transformed into these days, there has to be clear direction and leadership from the top down. I am not asking them to come to training and perform a double cut or set the scrum, but - as the players must do - sing from the same song sheet. No sniping, no backstabbing because everyone sees it and sighs every time we read about it. For too many years now there have been agendas and conspiracies surrounding the make-up and dealings behind the scenes. I remember it was going on when I was playing. The players could see it and it does become a distraction. It was seen as the boys' club and there were perks that came with it. Those days are gone and accountability in these positions is very transparent. The off-field team has to complement the on-field team, otherwise we will see more of what happened this year. The other major consideration is the appointment of the head coach. All I can say is don't rush into making a decision or be pressured to state a deadline. Find the right person for the job. If that takes time, that's OK. There has to be a common goal to make rugby in NSW strong again. This goes from the Waratahs board, that has been delivered a shake up, through to working closely with new appointments of Tim Gavin as president and Farr-Jones as chairman at NSWRU through to the players and you and I, the supporters. Here's to looking forward to 2013.