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Super Rugby semi-final: Stylish NSW Waratahs rekindle fans' love of football

On fire: The Waratahs and Adam Ashley-Cooper are shooting for a place in the Super Rugby final.

On fire: The Waratahs and Adam Ashley-Cooper are shooting for a place in the Super Rugby final. Photo: Getty Images

Virtue has its own rewards. At 9.27pm last Monday a media release from the Waratahs franchise popped up on my laptop. It had this exuberant headline: "Over 33,000 Tickets Snapped Up For Tahs."

The tickets are for Saturday night’s Super Rugby semi-final against the ACT Brumbies. A win for the Waratahs ensures them their first-ever home final.

The Waratahs are not only winning, they are winning in style. They are bringing back the joy in rugby for their supporters, and for followers of the game in the SANZAR region. Good.

There is no "hard day at the office" mentality about the play of the Waratahs. I dislike this phrase, which is often used by players talking about their sport. Boxing is one game you don't play. But rugby is a game, first and foremost, that you play. It is not office work. Players need to enjoy the contest no matter how fierce and nerve-racking it is. 

All Black Richie McCaw, for instance, said that the last 20 minutes of the 2011 Rugby World Cup final were "the best 20 minutes of my life". The Waratahs have brought the same notion of loving the contest to their play throughout this season.

As a consequence of this, they are becoming a Lovemarks franchise.

The concept of Lovemarks was devised by Kevin Roberts, the worldwide CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi and a former chairman of USA Rugby. Lovemarks, argues Roberts, "build Loyalty that goes Beyond Reason". The concept is based on respect and love.

There is a passionate support building for the attacking game of the Waratahs, as the crowd numbers are indicating. 

The key to this Waratahs attacking game is a tactical innovation introduced by coach Michael Cheika. The Waratahs use two lines of attack, like many sides. But their front line attacks in an arrow formation, a leading runner having players slightly behind him, on the inside and outside.

This is a new tactic. The runner has the option of taking the tackle, or slipping a pass to a support runner. The effect of this formation on the opposing players is that it requires them to thicken the defensive line near the ruck. What this means, in turn, is that space is created out wide for the second line of runners. 

It is no accident, then, that Israel Folau has scored a record number of tries (12) this season for the Waratahs. Adam Ashley-Cooper has made more breaks at centre, too, than he has in the last five seasons combined. Rob Horne, a journeyman in the past, has become a penetrative runner.

The arrowhead formation has allowed the Waratahs to be the best team in the tournament for carries, metres gained, offloads, passes and clean breaks in each game. 

The Highlanders and the Reds (who conceded their biggest losing margin to the Waratahs) could not handle this running onslaught in recent weeks. Somehow the Brumbies will have to find a way to close down the runners. Their tactics to do this will be interesting. Then they have to make breaks themselves against the best defence in the tournament.

Last week against the Chiefs the Brumbies performed the second part of this equation, essentially through a phenomenal running performance by Henry Speight. Virtually all the Brumbies penetration came from Speight who made 186 metres, broke 12 tackles (the second-best of any player in a Super Rugby match), created two line breaks and made three offloads.   

Stephen Larkham, in his first season as head coach, has slowly changed the style of his side from the "Jakeball" game inherited from Jake White’s stint as coach to the more traditional Brumbies game, "Macqueenball". The attacking elements of this Macqueenball game worked well against the Chiefs. But the defensive aspects need tightening.

There is no love between the two teams. There is the feeling among the Waratahs they were dobbed in by Brumbies players for breaking a curfew when the Wallabies played Ireland last year. 

Will the Brumbies revert to the Jakeball game under this pressure? Will the Waratahs keep the faith in their running game?

Prediction: The Waratahs and the Crusaders (another Lovemarks side) to contest the 2014 Super Rugby final.

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Rugby World Cup 2015

Round 1
Sat, 19 SepTimes shown AEST
ENG 35vs FJI 11 Report Stats
TGA 10vs GEO 17 Report Stats
IRE 50vs CAN 7 Report Stats
Sun, 20 SepTimes shown AEST
SAF 32vs JPN 34 Report Stats
FRA 32vs ITA 10 Report Stats
SAM 25vs USA 16 Report Stats
WAL 54vs URU 9 Report Stats
Mon, 21 SepTimes shown AEST
NZL 26vs ARG 16 Report Stats
Wed, 23 SepTimes shown AEST
SCO 45vs JPN 10 Report Stats
Thu, 24 SepTimes shown AEST
AUS 28vs FJI 13 Report Stats
FRA 38vs ROM 11 Report Stats
Fri, 25 SepTimes shown AEST
NZL 58vs NAM 14 Report Stats
Sat, 26 SepTimes shown AEST
ARG 54vs GEO 9 Report Stats
ITA 23vs CAN 18 Report Stats
Sun, 27 SepTimes shown AEST
SAF 46vs SAM 6 Report Stats
ENG 25vs WAL 28 Report Stats
AUS 65vs URU 3 Report Stats
SCO 39vs USA 16 Report Stats
Mon, 28 SepTimes shown AEST
IRE 44vs ROM 10 Report Stats
Wed, 30 SepTimes shown AEST
TGA 35vs NAM 21 Report Stats
Fri, 02 OctTimes shown AEST
WAL 23vs FJI 13 Report Stats
FRA 41vs CAN 18 Report Stats
Sat, 03 OctTimes shown AEST
NZL 43vs GEO 10 Report Stats
SAM 5vs JPN 26 Report Stats
Sun, 04 OctTimes shown AEST
SAF 34vs SCO 16 Report Stats
ENG 13vs AUS 33 Report Stats
Mon, 05 OctTimes shown AEDT
ARG 45vs TGA 16 Report Stats
IRE 16vs ITA 9 Report Stats
Wed, 07 OctTimes shown AEDT
CAN 15vs ROM 17 Report Stats
FJI 47vs URU 15 Report Stats
Thu, 08 OctTimes shown AEDT
SAF 64vs USA 0 Report Stats
NAM 16vs GEO 17 Stats
Sat, 10 OctTimes shown AEDT
NZL 47vs TGA 9 Report Stats
Sun, 11 OctTimes shown AEDT
SAM 33vs SCO 36 Report Stats
AUS 15vs WAL 6 Report Stats
ENG 60vs URU 3 Stats
ARG 64vs NAM 19 Report Stats
Mon, 12 OctTimes shown AEDT
ITA 32vs ROM 22 Report Stats
FRA 9vs IRE 24 Report Stats
USA 18vs JPN 28 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Sun, 18 OctTimes shown AEDT
SAF 23vs WAL 19 Stats
NZL 62vs FRA 13 Report Stats
IRE 20vs ARG 43 Report Stats
Mon, 19 OctTimes shown AEDT
AUS 35vs SCO 34 Stats
Sun, 25 OctTimes shown AEDT
SAF 18vs NZL 20 Stats
Mon, 26 OctTimes shown AEDT
ARG 15vs AUS 29 Stats
Sat, 31 OctTimes shown AEDT
SAF 24vs ARG 13 Stats
Sun, 01 NovTimes shown AEDT
NZL 34vs AUS 17 Stats
View All Fixtures
Rugby World Cup 2015
Team P W L D +/- Pts
Australia 4 4 0 0 106 17
Wales 4 3 1 0 49 13
England 4 2 2 0 58 11
Fiji 4 1 3 0 -17 5
Uruguay 4 0 4 0 -196 0
View all
Rugby World Cup 2015
Team P W L D +/- Pts
South Africa 4 3 1 0 120 16
Scotland 4 3 1 0 43 14
Japan 4 3 1 0 -2 12
Samoa 4 1 3 0 -55 6
USA 4 0 4 0 -106 0
View all
Rugby World Cup 2015
Team P W L D +/- Pts
New Zealand 4 4 0 0 125 19
Argentina 4 3 1 0 109 15
Georgia 4 2 2 0 -70 8
Tonga 4 1 3 0 -60 6
Namibia 4 0 4 0 -104 1
View all
Rugby World Cup 2015
Team P W L D +/- Pts
Ireland 4 4 0 0 99 18
France 4 3 1 0 57 14
Italy 4 2 2 0 -14 10
Romania 4 1 3 0 -69 4
Canada 4 0 4 0 -73 2
View all

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