X-factor … Bernard Foley. Photo: Reuters
INSIDE the Waratahs is a good team waiting to come to life. If this team, the good Waratahs, manages to emerge tonight for 80 minutes at Allianz Stadium, the rampant Hurricanes could be in for a scare. After all, the Hurricanes have won only twice in Sydney from their last eight starts. But the history of this 2012 NSW side suggests the team needs a new coach and a new playmaker for the real Waratahs to emerge.
Last weekend against the Cheetahs the good Waratahs played a terrific first half in which they scored four tries. Just after half-time they kicked a conversion to stretch their lead. But then the bad Waratahs kicked in, literally. I wrote in my notebook about play after this penalty: ''Barnes kicks long … McKibbin kicks … Foley kicks … Barnes kicks … Barnes actually passes … Barnes kicks.'' The result of all this kicking the ball to the Cheetahs was that the home side stormed back, scored tries and took the lead.
The Cheetahs, a team with one of the worst defensive records in this year's Super Rugby competition, then held on grimly despite a typically misguided attempt by the Waratahs forwards to pick-and-drive their way to a try. A turnover was conceded and the chance of kicking the winning field goal, with Berrick Barnes in the slot waving his arms frantically for the ball, was lost.
This brain-dead play and the consequent loss destroyed their season and possibly the continued head coaching aspirations of Michael Foley. It was reported this week that Foley would consider staying on with the Waratahs with someone else as the head coach. This opens the way, it seems, for the Waratahs board (an oligarchy in need of reform) to consider making Scott Johnson, the current assistant coach of Scotland, an offer he can't refuse.
Johnson is apparently a candidate to be head coach of the Western Force. But the Waratahs job is a better fit for him. He was a clever five-eighth in Sydney club rugby. Later he proposed changes to the laws of rugby and organised a trial game to demonstrate them. Many of these Johnson's Laws (as I called them after they were demonstrated at Milner Field in a special match) are now in the law book some decades later. He has coached at the international level for the Wallabies, Wales and Scotland, and at club level in Britain. In 2001, he was the attack coach of the Waratahs when they were one of four teams with a plus points differential.
Eleven Waratahs were selected for Robbie Deans's first Wallabies squad for 2012 leading into the Test on Tuesday at Newcastle against Scotland. It was interesting, and a sort of implied criticism of the Waratahs coaching team, that Bernard Foley, the mercurial former Australian Sevens star and current Waratahs fullback, was nominated as a fullback and a five-eighth. It was Deans who promoted Quade Cooper very early on in his career into the Wallabies. And what structure there is in Cooper's play started with his coaching in the Wallabies. Deans seems to be hinting that Foley has potential, perhaps, to be a Waratahs equivalent of Cooper: a match-winning, entertaining No. 10.
This Deans hint is something the current Waratahs coaching staff should take seriously after the June break. A feature of the Tahs' play this season has been a lack of energy around the halves. There has been too much kicking and not enough running at the defensive line.
Sarel Pretorius was brought from the Cheetahs to provide dynamic running from the base of the scrum. He showed some of this flair in the pre-season matches. Brendan McKibbin has been adequate but with no great dynamism.
A bright spark like Bernard Foley playing at No.10 could light up the back play of the Waratahs. It needs this type of play to bring back the crowds. Foley should watch Beauden Barrett energise the Hurricanes to see how this can be done.