Likes hard-nosed coaching … George Smith. Photo: Getty Images
UNCERTAINTY over the Waratahs' ability to win a Super Rugby title will remain until that elusive moment of triumph happens - if it ever does.
For far too long, pre-season hype over suggestions that ''this will be their year'' has ended in heartbreak. But one thing followers can bank on under their new coach, Michael Cheika, Wallabies great George Smith believes, is that they will play as a united team, not a collective bunch of individuals.
Smith told Fairfax Media the former Randwick and NSW back-rower, known for being a hands-on, in-your-face coach, would ''do good things for the Waratahs''.
''He is well respected by players.'' Smith said. ''Players enjoy being coached by Michael. He is a coach you want to play for and win games for. He will bring that out of the players, and an ability to be a group rather than as individuals.''
Smith, who plays rugby in Japan, experienced Cheika's coaching last year on a secondment from Suntory Goliath in Tokyo. The veteran of 110 Tests and 122 Super games played 10 matches with Parisian club Stade Francais, then coached by Cheika.
Smith, 32 - a protege of former Wallabies and Brumbies coach Eddie Jones, who lured Smith to Suntory as their coach but is now in charge of the Japanese national side - likes hard-nosed coaching.
And at Stade Francais, he found that in Cheika and liked it - even if some of the European players did not. Cheika's two-year contract ended acrimoniously after a string of unsatisfactory results and amid reports of boardroom politics.
But Cheika, who coached Irish club Leinster to their 2009 European Cup victory, was not the first Australian coach to leave in such circumstances and go on to better things. Former Wallabies prop Ewen McKenzie fell out with Stade Francais during his tenure from 2008-09, but showed the strength of his ability by coaching the Queensland Reds to their first Super title in 2010.
Smith, meanwhile, is not finished with his rugby career. He has signed with Suntory for another season, and shows no sign of hanging up his boots.
He will return to Australia next month for a post-season break, and head back to Japan in June. But after his next season with Suntory, he hopes to continue playing. ''I have no plans [confirmed] after that,'' he said. ''I will continue playing, but I haven't decided where yet.''
As with his decision to end his Wallabies career, the priorities of his family will play a big role in his future. While playing in Japan, his family have remained in Australia, but visit him regularly. ''It will depend on [his wife Louise] where I go, where I play,'' Smith said.
Meanwhile, the Waratahs will officially name the new captain at their season launch on February 6 at The Ivy in Sydney, nine days before the Super Rugby competition kicks off.
The announcement will come eight days after the Waratahs play the last of their three trials - against the Crusaders at Allianz Stadium, Sydney on February 14.
However, the Waratahs' chances of resisting forfeiting their Wallabies for an extended Test camp before the Lions series have been hit by a needless injury to second-rower Kane Douglas.
Douglas rolled his ankle while playing a game of touch football in a Wallabies logistics camp on Tuesday as part of a promotion for the British and Irish Lions tour.
Cheika said the injury would keep Douglas out of training for at least a fortnight. ''We were assured there would be no rugby content whatsoever, and we've had a player injured shooting an advertisement without the correct strapping,'' Cheika said. ''He's now going to start the season with just two weeks of training - that type of stuff makes it [releasing players] hard to swallow.
''I understand mistakes can happen sometimes but we can minimise them, and that [injury] shouldn't be happening.''
Twitter - @rupertguinness