Rugby season kicks off
Greg Growden and Steve Samuelson are back to breakdown the first round.PT0M0S 620 349
Different jersey, different coach, different players but the same thing applies when the Waratahs run out at ANZ Stadium tomorrow night: a win is a must.
The first game of the year against Queensland, the auld enemy from the north, will provide the energy to get the Super Rugby season off to an emotional start.
The preparation of both teams has been disrupted by injuries but that is something you have to work through. Teams that take a holistic approach will benefit throughout a long season.
"What Horwill brings to a game is his presence, his ability to win lineout ball and the options he provides around the ball players." Photo: Getty Images
The Waratahs, under new coach Michael Foley, have already fielded questions relating to the state of play. Are we going to see the same as last year? My sources tell me they have made advances and are quietly confident of playing a game that will suit each opposition. Remember that running the ball for runnings' sake is not always the right thing to do. The French showed that in the World Cup final instead of focusing on taking the right options.
The Tahs' biggest hurdle tomorrow will be to shut down two of the Reds' best - captain James Horwill and Will Genia.
What Horwill brings to a game is his presence, his ability to win lineout ball and the options he provides around the ball players. If the Waratahs defend the lineout at two and four it means they have to throw to the back.
The Waratahs know there are limitations there and should have a three jumping pod strategy to upset the rhythm of the Reds.
Genia is a special player. But is he just half of a dynamic duo? Without Quade Cooper, how well will he work with Michael Harris? Genia will have to take more responsibility directing the troops. He seems to have expanded his kicking game around the ruck area. The problem in Australia is there is not enough focus on making this area attacking and it can come at the expense of running the ball. In effect, it will be free ball to the Waratahs to look for a counterattack.
A new season and some new dynamic players should allow the Waratahs to play what confronts them. Because of injuries, some younger squad members will be at the coal face tomorrow. My advice is to enjoy the occasion and relish the ball-in-hand opportunities.
This could be the chance to see some depth in the Waratahs attack. The laws regarding the defending team being behind the last feet at ruck time seem to get a little bent. The players who are going to penetrate the defensive line need to be given some time and space.
This doesn't mean a player should throw a pass five metres from his opposite man, but rather force him to commit by using speed and angling the running lines. This gives the ball player time with the ball in hand.
Centres Tom Carter and Rob Horne have big responsibilities in getting to the advantage line and creating confusion. It is time for them to stand tall on the big stage.
The truth is the Waratahs are under pressure before the season has begun - from their own expectations, and the massive pressures from the supporters and media.
They are also under pressure to take a big step forward under Foley and he expects an understanding of where they should be on the field at certain times. He expects them to execute a game plan and change if things are not going to plan.
This will be the mark of the Waratahs whether they have progressed and will evolve into a winning team.