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Tahs must show more than glimpses

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Paul Cully

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The Breakdown: Izzy's copped a bad rap

With all the hype surrounding Israel Folau's start with the Waratahs, he proved no worse than any of his teammates, who have no excuse for falling off tackles.

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Earlier this week, former All Blacks halfback Justin Marshall let slip on New Zealand radio he had received a text from Australia last weekend. "The New Zealand conference looks strong this year," it read. "I think we [the Australian sides] could be in trouble." The sender was Waratahs assistant coach Daryl Gibson.

He probably won't thank his old Crusaders teammate for divulging its contents, but the drift of Gibson's message is easy to understand.

In the Chiefs-Highlanders and Hurricanes-Blues games soft hands, pace and sheer power were in evidence, from tight-head props to outside backs and from the All Blacks on show to the uncapped. There doesn't look to be any let-up in the quality.

Where the Waratahs fit into the picture will not become clearer until Friday night. They didn't look close to being title challengers last weekend, but it was one of those games that provided more queries than answers. They looked like a side searching for their identity.

Drew Mitchell's performance was fascinating to watch, not just because of the emotional baggage he must carry when he plays on the Suncorp turf where he suffered that gruesome injury two years ago.

Mitchell looked lighter and sharper than at any other point since his return, and by the way he addressed the team at the end of the game, he has grown into something of a leadership role. Plainly, he is one of the senior men new coach Michael Cheika needs to have on board.

Mitchell was determined to play the game at the right end of the pitch, kicking the ball long on four occasions. And although the execution was not always perfect, the thinking was right, even if it was apparently at odds with some of NSW's other work. At times, the Waratahs played for too long in the wrong areas, and the winger knew it.

Even when, in the 35th minute, Mitchell kicked a counter-attacking opportunity downfield, it produced an outcome. The Waratahs made a mess of the Reds' lineout, and subsequently won a penalty from a scrum. Eschewing the three points, the Waratahs let the home side off the hook when their set-piece move broke down in midfield, but the message was clear: when they turned it into a physical contest in the right areas they had the Reds at their most vulnerable.

There should be no shame in grinding down teams, embracing territorial gains and earning the right to open them up later, especially when you have a pack full of big men. It is a form of entertainment in its own right.

There will be handsome rewards if NSW get the balance right against the Rebels on Friday night.

The Rebels were bullied into submission by a Brumbies side that needed no more than 70 per cent of its potential capacity to collect a bonus-point win. Already this season the Melbourne side has coughed up seven tries at home – heading towards last year's defensive average of conceding 3.69 tries a game.

There is a lack of physicality in the tight five, vulnerability at the scrum and one constant in their defensive work: individuals making poor decisions under pressure. There was an element of sticking the boot into Bambi in the first two years of the Rebels' existence, now they need to lift their game. All of which opens up space for the Waratahs, especially as they will find Scott Fuglistaller in No. 7 nothing like the pest Liam Gill was in Brisbane. There were glimpses last week of what the Waratahs are capable of. When Ben Volavola ghosted outside Mike Harris, straightened and worked through the gears to the try line, it made some of the more optimistic Waratahs pre-season predictions a little easier to fathom. Offensively, at least, and in space, there is a bit of Rolls-Royce about the youngster.

It is something to build on, especially in tandem with Bernard Foley's encouraging start and Mitchell's signs of renewal. Another stumble tonight, however, and the trouble Gibson was referencing will come sooner than expected.

Twitter @whiskeycully

23 comments so far

  • Did it strike anyone how 'unfit' the waratahs pack looked in the first half last week. When Tapauai set sail for the line, I recall the footage of Dave Dennis giving chase, albeit with little chance of running him down. He looked like he was carrying at least 5 extra kegs. Now he is a big kid, but a six surely needs a bigger motor than that? I guess the same goes for the tighties too, Kepu et al

    Commenter
    TeeD
    Location
    Syd
    Date and time
    March 01, 2013, 7:43AM
    • @TeeD
      'Match fit' maybe - it was 30degrees......
      tonight the mud....one extreme to another - they cant take a trick
      all 7 members will be watching closely . including me

      Commenter
      gman
      Location
      nsw
      Date and time
      March 01, 2013, 8:16AM
    • Don't get me wrong GMan, I wanna believe
      regardless of the 30 degrees and 4000% humidity, we aren't talking about amateur footy nor an organisation who hasn't played in Brisbane before. They knew it would be up tempo but selected one of the bigger packs in recent memory to 'smite' the Reds off the park. Problem is ya gotta catch them before you can eat em (Bear Grylls taught me that) and weight will stop a train.

      I dunno, guess we will all be watching closely

      Commenter
      TeeD
      Location
      Syd
      Date and time
      March 01, 2013, 9:27AM
  • tonights the night .........everything gonna be alright
    it better be.....

    Commenter
    a very tired life member
    Location
    nsw
    Date and time
    March 01, 2013, 7:54AM
    • I'm a diehard Reds fan, but I want the Tahs to be good this year. I look at them to restore some pride in the Australian conference and help the Reds and Brumbies to dish out some good results. Sadly (or slightly not for a Reds fan), last week they looked just as bad if not worse than last year.

      I agree with you, tonight is the night. The Rebels are ordinary (being polite), and should be belted. Four try bonus point win is the order of the day, anything less I'm afraid and it'll be another long season for the Tahs.

      Commenter
      Lizzar
      Location
      Qld
      Date and time
      March 01, 2013, 10:12AM
    • has been raining for 12 hours - with a 20 knot southerly
      4 try bonus game tonight............unlikley
      but live in hope.

      Commenter
      gman
      Location
      nsw
      Date and time
      March 01, 2013, 10:28AM
  • Another kiwi trojan horse amongst our midst ....

    Commenter
    johnny-boy
    Date and time
    March 01, 2013, 8:39AM
    • @ johnny-boy.If the game was run here, the way it is run in other countries, then possibly you would not have another Kiwi Trojan horse amongst your midst!!!!!! Also that could also apply to the kiwi born players that are playing here at the top level and in club land. Try looking seriously at the structures,developments, promotions and sponsors that our honorable ARU have been putting in place over the years. Now there is not only kiwi players on board,but also quite a few South African's. Does that not tell you something?

      Commenter
      Muzzo
      Location
      Orange
      Date and time
      March 01, 2013, 3:08PM
  • I know it sounds crazy - after yet another close loss -but I choose to think that I am seeing improvement and that this loss was different. First game, lack of real match fitness, away at Suncorp, new way of playing, Reds had the advantage of one game, Reds are a quality outfit, nada, nada, nada. I know, I know..........I am creating excuses but this time I have a feeling deep in my gut that things will improve.

    Commenter
    Bill Blinky
    Location
    Bellingen NSW
    Date and time
    March 01, 2013, 8:44AM
    • @ Bill Blinky

      Last week I was hopeful of a victory but wasn't surprised that the Reds showed-up with harden steel to get a win..... but tonight's game scares me. The Tahs must beat the Rebels !
      Simple as that. I don't give a toss how they do it, just so long as they register a 'W' on the log.
      The only advantage that the Tahs may have is the weather is shyte and hopefully this will curtail any chance of the Rebels playing with greater width. Therefore, the Tahs must muscle-up and play to the conditions.
      Yours weren't 'excuses' rather they were the reality of the situation.

      Commenter
      Machooka
      Location
      inner west sydney
      Date and time
      March 01, 2013, 9:42AM

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