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Waratahs need to get priorities right


Rugby columnist with the Australian Financial Review

View more articles from John Eales

The Brumbies left the Waratahs in their try-scoring wake.

The Brumbies left the Waratahs in their try-scoring wake. Photo: Graham Tidy

Do old habits die hard or are new habits just so hard to form? Is there a difference? One thing’s for sure, if you have to break an old habit to move to a desired habit it’s compounded and probably twice as hard.

You only have to observe the Australian cricket team in India at the moment to appreciate that new habits, like playing spin bowling on dusty wickets with dancing feet, are hard to form. This is nothing new, mind you, for even when we had the best spinner in the world – and maybe history – we weren’t the best players of spin in the world. When changing habits, both structural and mindset issues must be addressed and the cricket team is suffering on both counts.

For example, within the game’s infrastructure, our pitches from the WACA to the SCG and everywhere else have become more like relations than just friends. If they were human they would be prohibited from procreating as their gene pools are now so similar. We no longer have an SCG “turner” which propelled the careers of spinners like Bob "Dutchy" Holland, Murray Bennett and even Allan Border – Holland and Bennett famously combining in Clive Lloyd’s final game in 1985 to end the 27-Test unbeaten run of the West Indies in full cry.

From an attitude perspective, Test cricket is being challenged by its abbreviated progeny, Twenty20. As a result it may be unreasonable to expect players to become great Test cricketers, or even reasonably memorable Test cricketers when you are more lucratively rewarded for having a Twenty20 mindset. In the stakes of streetcred, Twenty20 is played with matchsticks, not money, when compared to Test cricket, but in the stakes of your bank credit it is the opposite. And, of course, motivation and form often follow the money so the habits created by our present structures and mindsets direct some of our cricketers to put a Twenty20 value on their Test match innings.

Michael Cheika, the Waratahs rugby coach, similarly has a challenge to change old conservative habits, and in the face of a disappointing and comprehensive 35-6 loss to the Brumbies in Canberra on Saturday night it is reasonable to question if he is making progress. In his time in charge Cheika’s attitude has been akin to the new CEO outing the bad while illuminating the light on the hill. He is the merchant of hope selling to a somewhat jaded, but still willing, following – it’s just that they are not sure just how far that light is away. Hopefully not years.

What needs to drive Cheika from here is to rejuvenate the Waratahs with a Test match solution, not a Twenty20 solution; he cannot cut corners in his pursuit of entertaining, attacking and winning rugby.

It may seem an anomaly but attacking and entertaining rugby requires more structure,not less. The structure becomes the platform from which instinct can thrive. Instinct on its own can be too easily smothered and quickly dissipate to become headless. Structure on its own is predictable and eventually impotent. But instinct born of structure and attitude is irrepressible. But what comes first, the attitudinal shift or the structural?

Cheika is putting attitude ahead of results at this stage, evidenced by his team’s willingness to continue to attack when coming from behind in previous matches. But he is also smart enough to comprehend that, in the hope business, results do buy some time, so wins are not a “nice to have” but a “must have”. The Brumbies prevailed because they are at least 12 months ahead of the Waratahs on the change curve.

They are now becoming increasingly enterprising and their winning ways are bringing the crowds back to Canberra Stadium. But their rebirth has been enterprise through discipline and structure, with the precision of their lineout, scrum, defensive patterns and accuracy at the breakdown, giving them the right to bedazzle.

An example of the difference between the two teams could be drawn from two lineouts which were representative of the trend of this game: one from which the Brumbies clinically drove and Ben Mowen scored, the other from which they expertly defused a possible Waratah return-fire. It is illustrative that the detail in both the Brumbies’ attack and defence in the set play is ahead of the Waratahs, and it is through such a platform of basics that the Brumbies have built their compelling game plan.

Cheika is acutely aware the task he has assumed is a marathon and that for his team to be successful he has to back himself long term, learning from the difficulties and the detail of Saturday night and working hard to recognise and remedy both.

19 comments so far

  • Well said John and pretty spot on the money, excepting perhaps one thing. A very sad feature of last year's Tahs was a lack of physical commitment. I suspect this is more important to fans than results, at least in the short term. The Brumbies bullied the Tahs. This should get their backs right up and I would hope to see a big rebound on that front this week. If not, it will be a very long season.

    Date and time
    March 11, 2013, 2:26AM
    • I have to disagree that the Waratahs are 12 months behind the Waratahs. Phil Kearns made the same statement (excuse) during the call. After a few rounds and at this stage last year it was evident the Brumbies were playing with much better structure, skill and strategy. The Waratahs are nowhere near emulating this same set up. Their error rate is enormous. Contrast the ball handling skills in the NRL vs the Tahs.T It is no contest. It seems that players that come to the Waratahs play worse in the blue jersey and better when they leave or play for the Wallabies. Classic examples, Sarel Pretorius, Ben Mowen, Berrick Barnes, Adam Ashely-Cooper, Michael Hooper, Timani and even I suggest Israel Folau. Lote Tuqiri was wasted for years at the Tahs. There is some core problem at the heart of the Waratahs that is rotting them.

      Gordon Peptide
      The Lab
      Date and time
      March 11, 2013, 8:59AM
  • Let's be honest, the Tahs were abyssmal. On the rare occassion when they ran the ball last year they looked better than they do this year. That Tah 'all wallaby pack' has a lot of questions to answer.

    Date and time
    March 11, 2013, 9:15AM
    • There is nothing wrong with the Tahs, its the the Normal. If the players in the Tahs had to fight as hard for a wallaby jersey as the rest of the players in other franchises they would be better off.
      Frankly how can a coach with 11 Wallabies, many seasoned lose to a team with 7 and really that could easily be reduced to 4. Says something about the Tahs. If you were Deans and an Australian selector you would be hard pressed to find a spot for more than 4 of the Tahs because it appeasr as soon as the sky blue jersey is put on all form is lost.
      The Brumbies played well but then again they played a team that has already lost its way. Cooper hardly does anything for the Tahs and the standout player is Volavola, the rest especially the backline have no idea. Folau looks lost and one wonders how he was such a sensation in league, perhaps league is a game for softies.
      Cooper, and Carter can one think of a more unimaginative centre pairing. There is no point running at a wall of defenders if you cannot pass. perhaps Carter should look at reruns of SBW or Maa to see what happens at contact.
      Simply put , given the payments, the facilities, etc are the Waratahs the worst rugby side in Super 14? I think perhaps they are given what they have at their disposal.

      Date and time
      March 11, 2013, 9:55AM
      • A gambler once gave me some good advice: The only guaranteed way to win is to find a loser and bet against them. Over the years the Waratahs have made me rich, and this year looks to be another bumper year. Thank you incompetent Waratahs, please keep doing what you're doing :)

        Date and time
        March 11, 2013, 10:00AM
        • i though that a lot of the problems were caused by very poor service from the 9 and the 10 wasn't much better. Passes continually going behind the shoulder kill any potency. The forward runners were getting the same poor service with passes behind the shoulder or up high so that they hit the contact standing bolt upright. I appreciate that the coach knows more about it than me, but they don't have the fundamentals. And the line-out? If the hooker can't throw it well enough, can't someone else throw it? I don't think there is a rule that says it has the be the hooker - when i was a kid the winger used to throw it (gave them something to do).

          the Sea
          Date and time
          March 11, 2013, 10:53AM
          • Don't agree with the wins being a must have at all..good style rugby is the must have. Winning ugly is a nonsense of an idea we have all heard before and without style that's what happens
            Cheika isn't about to change and good luck to him ..KEEP GOING if we can only get good service to the backs and get the FORWARDS out of the backline

            Date and time
            March 11, 2013, 11:26AM
            • There is one obvious problem in Australian Rugby n it aint only the players. The problem is the lack of depth in quality coaches in Australian Rugby. You may not admit it but that should be a concern for you lot. Not one of the current coaches would've ever been asked to apply for any of the 5 NZ Super Rugby sides. McKenzie somehow becomes a super coach after winning a solitary championship but is called upon by the Aussie media Rugby public to replace a man (Robbie Deans) who beat him twice in Super Rugby finals, has won 5 Super Rugby titles n taken his team (Crusaders) to 7 playoffs. It's incredible the logic you see in that Robbie Deans being replaced when he IS the most decorated Super Rugby coach of all time who created the Saders culture you all talk about in your Rugby panels n media columns. When Chieka was appoint coach, the Aussie media went into a frenzy, write ups like 'Hes a no nonsense man' or 'He's the tough coach the Tahs need' or 'Cheika will bring the mongrel into the Tahs' n so forth. I wrote in other columns saying - just Shut the hell up, as those are the same comments you've made about the last guy appointed as Tahs coach. They play a boring game n all weekend the players on Rugby HQ kept saying 'we're having fun, enjoy rugby' thinking results will be positive n they would have some winning streak. Well I guess your approach to 'fun rugby' differes to us Kiwis. We have 'Fun Rugby' but the hard yards we put into it in training, fitness, power, tactical n mental training preps us for 'Fun Rugby' compared to your chubby forwards, its not wonder ur a joke.

              Date and time
              March 11, 2013, 11:27AM
              • Yeah fun losing rugby ......
                The South Africans are starting to see the benefits of having a competent national coach who doesn't divide the sport in South Africa. The Australian cricketers are seeing the benefits of having a foreign national coach .....

                Date and time
                March 11, 2013, 11:46AM
              • You're probably right to certain extent, spent a bit of time in N.Z. many years ago. The one common factor I found was the absolute love of all things rugby and the hard yards put in by rugby players at all levels, played a bit of "bush rugby" while over there and while it was considered "fun rugby" it was 100% commitment by all those involved, something dearly lacking from rugby this side of the Tasman as I did play club rugby here many years ago. In saying that, I don't we are a joke, it's just our attitude differs to what Rugby means to most Kiwis.

                Date and time
                March 11, 2013, 9:11PM

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