Dream on ... Irish linchpin Brian O'Driscoll. Photo: Andrew Gorrie
DO NOT expect to see Ireland centre Brian O'Driscoll in the sky blue any time soon.
As the Waratahs announced the departure of a second assistant coach, Scott Bowen, the province was hosing down reports O'Driscoll would be lured to Sydney by Michael Cheika, his former coach at Leinster.
Despite O'Driscoll's publicly voiced interest in an Australian stint, open-ended comments from Cheika and reports of a possible agreement with sponsor HSBC, it is understood the Irish superstar is no realistic chance of playing for NSW any time in the near future.
The Waratahs understand the short-term gains of a signing of that magnitude. The 120-cap Ireland linchpin would deliver the Waratahs coverage of which the Moore Park suits can only dream.
Adding particularly tantalising appeal to an O'Driscoll-Cheika reunion is the presence of a large Irish expatriate community in Sydney. Attendances at games would be boosted overnight.
The 33-year-old is off contract in June and, barring disaster, will travel to Australia with the British and Irish Lions squad next year. Cheika has expressed his regard for the Ireland captain but also his belief that O'Driscoll's ties to his homeland may prove too great.
"The top players in the world like Brian would all like to come down and see how they fare here but you have to remember it is very difficult for Irish players to leave Ireland," he said this week. ''Because when they retire, they get a big tax backpayment. He is obviously one of the highest-paid players in Ireland, so it would be a big decision for him to come here. But there is no doubt the thought about coming down here is with a lot of the top players over there. Whether it becomes a reality is something else.''
In the meantime, the Waratahs say they are serious about breathing life back into the rugby union pathways at home.
And while the market for contractable players has shrunk considerably, the province appears to be walking the talk with the selection of four local talents to compete for the last position in the extended squad.
Shute Shield player of the year Hamish Angus is one, along with Randwick captain and former Rebels five-eighth Toby Browne, Southern Districts and Australia under-20s fullback Ben Volavola and Victorian import Peter Samu, who now plays in the back row for Randwick.
The selections of three backs and the earlier recruitment of halfback Matt Lucas, winger Michael Hodge and outside back Cam Crawford indicate Cheika's and Gaffney's focus on depth in the Waratahs back line.
Departing backs coach Bowen also played a big role in assembling the roster for next year.
Cheika yesterday thanked the former Waratahs five-eighth for his service. Bowen followed out former defence coach Greg Mumm, who left last month.