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Michael Cheika guides NSW Waratahs out of Super Rugby wilderness

Israel Folau has provided the Waratahs with the cutting edge they craved.

Israel Folau has provided the Waratahs with the cutting edge they craved. Photo: Getty Images


So there I was interviewing the Waratahs coach Matt Williams (1997-1999, and no finals appearances). "We’re developing what I call 'the 12 tribes of Israel' culture, where players feel they are part of a special, chosen group, the NSW Waratahs," he told me.

I know, I know. What do these words actually mean? I reported what Williams said, though. And "the 12 tribes of Israel" citation has become part of the folklore of the lost Waratahs, who are still without a Super Rugby title.

Williams was the second coach of the Waratahs in the professional era. The first, Chris Hawkins, was booted out in an office coup. Much of the franchise’s subsequent wandering in the Super Rugby wilderness can be attributed to Williams. He created the culture of indulgence that pandered to the whims of the players. This culture of player power off the field and player softness on the field manifested itself in the traditional Waratahs Wobbles at the championship end of the seasons.

The difference between the Waratahs of 2014 and the Waratahs since the Matt Williams era is summed up in two words: Michael Cheika. Now in his second year with the Waratahs, Cheika has revived the side and made it a genuine contender by returning to the great Waratahs tradition of running, try-scoring rugby.

Cheika has punished the players at training with the torturous ascents of the Coogee Steps. The message is tough love.

He has created a big pack that has plenty of mongrel to its play. The backs are slick and fast and include X-factor standouts such as Israel Folau and Kurtley Beale.

The Waratahs make more carries, gain more metres a match and pass more than any other team in the tournament. They have won all their home matches. Only the Hurricanes (42) have scored more tries than the Waratahs (37). The team is top of the Australian Conference (39 points) and second in the competition behind the Sharks (44), who have played one game more.

The Sharks have dominated their opponents by refusing to play any rugby inside their own territory. Cheika, to his credit, will not go down this negative path. He told reporters before the match against the Hurricanes early this month that the running game was in the Waratahs' DNA. Good. They then turned a 17-point deficit into a nine-point win. Very good.

On Saturday they play the Chiefs at New Plymouth. A win will entrench their finals chances. The Waratahs, though, have not won in New Zealand in the past four years. But they have secured bonus-point victories in their past three matches.   

There is a virtuous circle at play, so far this season, with Cheika's Waratahs. They are slowly winning back the crowds that, understandably, deserted the team during the "win-ugly" era. They are genuine title contenders for the first time in years. And they are attracting interest from consortiums wanting to buy into the franchise.

The work of the present board, under the chairmanship of Roger Davis, has been better than the previous board. But the Waratahs franchise rates poorly against the Queensland Reds in terms of trophies, crowd support and membership numbers. So cue in bids to take over the Waratahs franchise.

The 1991 World Cup-winning coach Bob Dwyer and successful businessman and former ARU chairman Dilip Kumar have proposed a $10 million boost to community rugby in their bid to take over the Waratahs. Many in rugby have not forgiven Dwyer for his activities in Kerry Packer's bid to take over professional rugby in 1996. Kumar resigned over anger from the NZRU over Australia’s failure, at his instigation, to support its successful bid to host the 2011 RWC.

The presumption is that Japanese money will ballast this bid.

A second consortium bid is led by David Levy, the founder of the Waratahs sponsor Pet Resorts Australia. It includes seven other businessmen, including Michael Hendler, the founder of sportswear distribution company True Alliance. I Googled these companies and was impressed with their marketing and presentation skills.

It seems to me that this marketing nous and Cheika’s flair as a coach could create a fabulous Waratahs franchise, on and off the field.       

5 comments so far

  • Come on Spiro, we've heard this all before. 2008 was meant to be their year and they failed badly in the final. You won't have to wait too long.. we'll see it again this year ...once a bunch of chokers, always a bunch of chokers!

    Commenter
    Brumbies2014
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    May 31, 2014, 8:00AM
    • I suppose that means the Brumbies choked last year as well.

      Commenter
      Carl
      Date and time
      June 01, 2014, 3:26PM
  • Spiro, don't get too excited yet. The Tahs have not won anything yet!

    Commenter
    Fuia
    Date and time
    May 31, 2014, 9:08AM
    • It is good to see the Waratahs finally play with spirit and desire, they are the form team at the moment and are definitely playing a winning style of Rugby. I think if they don't win it this year they never will. They have failed historically due mostly to not having a good game plan, or a group desire to win. This group appear to be prepared to play for each other and support each other. They also have a positive approach which I think holds them in good stead going into the finals.

      Commenter
      Barry
      Location
      Australia
      Date and time
      June 02, 2014, 11:25AM
      • The players wouldn't listen to Matt Williams, and the NSW rugby management types didn't back him, because he was never a rugby player, and didn't come to the job by winning club premierships in Sydney or Brisbane.

        Growden in particular bagged him mercilessly in the pages of the Herald from the start of his getting the Waratah coaching job.

        If Williams was powerless and unpopular as the head coach, why would anyone be influenced by him years after he left the joint?

        Blaming a bloke who coached the team for 3 years for a crooked culture that persisted for the next decade and beyond is weak, and I would have thought beneath Spiro Zavos.

        Commenter
        Mortal Wombat
        Date and time
        June 03, 2014, 6:48AM

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        Super Rugby 2015

        Round 1
        Fri, 13 FebTimes shown AEDT
        CRU 10 vs REB 20 Report Stats
        BRU 47 vs RED 3 Stats
        Sat, 14 FebTimes shown AEDT
        LIO 8 vs HUR 22 Stats
        BLU 18 vs CHF 23 Report Stats
        Sun, 15 FebTimes shown AEDT
        SHA 29 vs CHT 35 Stats
        BUL 17 vs STO 29 Stats
        WAR 13 vs FOR 25 Stats
        View All Fixtures
        Round 2
        Fri, 20 FebTimes shown AEDT
        CHF 19 vs BRU 17 Stats
        REB 28 vs WAR 38 Stats
        Sat, 21 FebTimes shown AEDT
        BUL 13 vs HUR 17 Stats
        HIG 20 vs CRU 26 Stats
        RED 18 vs FOR 6 Stats
        Sun, 22 FebTimes shown AEDT
        STO 27 vs BLU 16 Stats
        SHA 29 vs LIO 12 Stats
        View All Fixtures
        Round 3
        Fri, 27 FebTimes shown AEDT
        HIG 20 vs RED 13 Stats
        FOR 13 vs HUR 42 Stats
        Sat, 28 FebTimes shown AEDT
        CHT 25 vs BLU 24 Stats
        CHF 40 vs CRU 16 Stats
        REB 15 vs BRU 20 Stats
        Sun, 01 MarTimes shown AEDT
        BUL 43 vs SHA 35 Stats
        LIO 19 vs STO 22 Stats
        View All Fixtures
        Round 4
        Fri, 06 MarTimes shown AEDT
        CHF vs HIG 17:35WS
        BRU vs FOR 19:40GIO Stadium
        Sat, 07 MarTimes shown AEDT
        BLU vs LIO 17:35QBE Stadium
        RED vs WAR 19:40SS
        Sun, 08 MarTimes shown AEDT
        CHT vs BUL 02:05FSS
        STO vs SHA 04:10DHL Newlands
        View All Fixtures
        Round 5
        Fri, 13 MarTimes shown AEDT
        HUR vs BLU 17:35FMG Stadium
        FOR vs REB 22:00nib Stadium
        Sat, 14 MarTimes shown AEDT
        CRU vs LIO 14:30AMI
        HIG vs WAR 17:35FBS
        RED vs BRU 19:40SS
        Sun, 15 MarTimes shown AEDT
        STO vs CHF 00:00DHL Newlands
        CHT vs SHA 02:05FSS
        View All Fixtures
        Round 6
        Fri, 20 MarTimes shown AEDT
        HIG vs HUR 17:35FBS
        REB vs LIO 19:40AAMI
        Sat, 21 MarTimes shown AEDT
        CRU vs CHT 17:35AMI
        Sun, 22 MarTimes shown AEDT
        BUL vs FOR 02:05Loftus Versfeld
        SHA vs CHF 04:10Growthpoint Kings Park
        WAR vs BRU 16:05AS
        View All Fixtures
        Round 7
        Fri, 27 MarTimes shown AEDT
        HUR vs REB 17:35WS
        RED vs LIO 20:00SS
        Sat, 28 MarTimes shown AEDT
        CHF vs CHT 14:30WS
        HIG vs STO 17:35FBS
        WAR vs BLU 19:40AS
        Sun, 29 MarTimes shown AEDT
        SHA vs FOR 02:05Growthpoint Kings Park
        BUL vs CRU 04:10Loftus Versfeld
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        Round 8
        Fri, 03 AprTimes shown AEDT
        HUR vs STO 18:35WS
        REB vs RED 20:40AAMI
        Sat, 04 AprTimes shown AEDT
        CHF vs BLU 18:35WS
        BRU vs CHT 20:40GIO Stadium
        Sun, 05 AprTimes shown AEDT
        SHA vs CRU 01:00Growthpoint Kings Park
        LIO vs BUL 02:05Emirates Airlines Park
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        Round 9
        Fri, 10 AprTimes shown AEST
        BLU vs BRU 18:35EP
        Sat, 11 AprTimes shown AEST
        CRU vs HIG 18:35AMI
        WAR vs STO 20:40AS
        FOR vs CHT 22:45nib Stadium
        Sun, 12 AprTimes shown AEST
        BUL vs RED 00:00Loftus Versfeld
        LIO vs SHA 02:05Emirates Airlines Park
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        Round 10
        Fri, 17 AprTimes shown AEST
        CRU vs CHF 18:35AMI
        Sat, 18 AprTimes shown AEST
        HUR vs WAR 15:30WS
        HIG vs BLU 18:35FBS
        BRU vs REB 20:40GIO Stadium
        FOR vs STO 22:45nib Stadium
        Sun, 19 AprTimes shown AEST
        SHA vs BUL 02:05Growthpoint Kings Park
        CHT vs RED 04:10FSS
        View All Fixtures
        Round 11
        Fri, 24 AprTimes shown AEST
        CHF vs FOR 18:35WS
        BRU vs HIG 20:40GIO Stadium
        Sat, 25 AprTimes shown AEST
        CRU vs BLU 18:35AMI
        WAR vs REB 20:40ANZ
        Sun, 26 AprTimes shown AEST
        LIO vs CHT 02:05Emirates Airlines Park
        STO vs BUL 04:10DHL Newlands
        RED vs HUR 17:05SS
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        Round 12
        Fri, 01 MayTimes shown AEST
        HIG vs SHA 18:35FBS
        BRU vs WAR 20:40GIO Stadium
        Sat, 02 MayTimes shown AEST
        BLU vs FOR 16:30EP
        HUR vs CRU 18:35WS
        REB vs CHF 20:40AAMI
        Sun, 03 MayTimes shown AEST
        CHT vs STO 02:05FSS
        BUL vs LIO 04:10Loftus Versfeld
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        Round 13
        Fri, 08 MayTimes shown AEST
        CRU vs RED 18:35AMI
        REB vs BLU 20:40AAMI
        Sat, 09 MayTimes shown AEST
        HUR vs SHA 18:35WS
        FOR vs WAR 20:40nib Stadium
        Sun, 10 MayTimes shown AEST
        LIO vs HIG 00:00Emirates Airlines Park
        STO vs BRU 02:05DHL Newlands
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        Round 14
        Fri, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
        BLU vs BUL 18:35EP
        RED vs REB 20:40SS
        Sat, 16 MayTimes shown AEST
        HUR vs CHF 18:35WS
        WAR vs SHA 20:40AS
        Sun, 17 MayTimes shown AEST
        LIO vs BRU 02:05Emirates Airlines Park
        CHT vs HIG 04:10FSS
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        Round 15
        Fri, 22 MayTimes shown AEST
        CHF vs BUL 18:35Rotorua International Stadium
        RED vs SHA 20:40SS
        Sat, 23 MayTimes shown AEST
        BLU vs HUR 18:35Emirates Airlines Park
        WAR vs CRU 20:40ANZ
        FOR vs HIG 22:45nib Stadium
        Sun, 24 MayTimes shown AEST
        CHT vs LIO 02:05FSS
        STO vs REB 04:10DHL Newlands
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        Round 16
        Fri, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
        CRU vs HUR 18:35Trafalgar Park
        BRU vs BUL 20:40GIO Stadium
        Sat, 30 MayTimes shown AEST
        SHA vs REB 04:10Growthpoint Kings Park
        HIG vs CHF 18:35Rugby Park
        FOR vs RED 20:40nib Stadium
        Sun, 31 MayTimes shown AEST
        STO vs CHT 02:05DHL Newlands
        LIO vs WAR 04:10Emirates Airlines Park
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        Round 17
        Fri, 05 JunTimes shown AEST
        HUR vs HIG 18:35McLean Park
        FOR vs BRU 22:00nib Stadium
        Sat, 06 JunTimes shown AEST
        REB vs BUL 16:30AAMI
        BLU vs CRU 18:35EP
        RED vs CHF 20:40SS
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        CHT vs WAR 00:00FSS
        STO vs LIO 02:05DHL Newlands
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        Round 18
        Fri, 12 JunTimes shown AEST
        BLU vs HIG 18:35EP
        REB vs FOR 20:40AAMI
        Sat, 13 JunTimes shown AEST
        BRU vs CRU 16:30GIO Stadium
        CHF vs HUR 18:35Yarrow Stadium
        WAR vs RED 20:40AS
        Sun, 14 JunTimes shown AEST
        BUL vs CHT 02:05Loftus Versfeld
        SHA vs STO 04:10Growthpoint Kings Park
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        Round 19
        Fri, 19 JunTimes shown AEST
        7 vs 7 10:00
        Sat, 20 JunTimes shown AEST
        7 vs 7 10:00
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        Round 20
        Fri, 26 JunTimes shown AEST
        7 vs 7 10:00
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        Round 21
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        Hurricanes 3 3 0 0 47 13
        Stormers 3 3 0 0 26 12
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