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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 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
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        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
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        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
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        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
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        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
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        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
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        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
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        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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        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
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        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
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        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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        Super Rugby Semi Finals
        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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        Super Rugby 2016
        Overall standings
        Team P W L D +/- Pts
        Blues 0 0 0 0 0 0
        Waratahs 0 0 0 0 0 0
        View all
        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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