The Waratahs have not exactly been the most consistent team in Super Rugby. They have oodles of talent, but often follow up a good year with a miserable slump.
It started back in 1998, when they finished just four points outside the play-offs, but the next three years hovered in the lower half of the table (eight, ninth and eight positions respectively). More was to follow. In 2002 they finished second on the standings, but the next two years they were fifth and eighth. In 2005 (second) and 2006 (third) they again reached the play-offs, but in 2007 slumped to 13th.
Last year the ‘Tahs were runners-up again and if they are true to form, another slump could be on the cards.
What makes matters worse is that they have also lost several key players – men like Wallaby loose forward Rocky Elsom, stalwart David Lyons, Josh Valentine and star lock Dan Vickerman. That’s a huge chunk out of any team. At the time of writing this they were still searching for a second row replacement.
We said last year that the team from New South Wales may not have an opportunity as good as that to win the Super 14 for a very long time. We think they are entering a rebuilding phase.
Strengths: The Waratahs, much like the Brumbies and the Western Force, have great attacking players. However, they bring a certain amount of “uncertainty” to the game this year with new head coach Chris Hickey.
Weakness: They will be challenged up front – not only because they have lost seasoned campaigners like Rocky Elsom, David Lyons and Dan Vickerman, but also the loss of props Matt Dunning and Sekope Kepu (for the entire season) with injuries.
Noteworthy signings: Scott Fava (from the Western Force), Chris Thomson ( new from Northern Suburbs)
Noteworthy losses: Rocky Elsom (to Leinster in Ireland), David Lyons (Scarlets, Wales), Josh Valentine (Western Force), Dan Vickerman (Cambridge University, England), Ben Jacobs (Saracens). Out injured for the season – Matt Dunning, Sekope Kepu
Coach: The appointment of Chris Hickey will be tainted by the manner in which predecessor Ewen McKenzie was informed in mid-season that he will be “dismissed” at the end of 2008. However, Hickey brings with him an impressive club coaching pedigree. The former Eastwood coach, Hickey, has more than 14 years of first grade experience in Sydney and Canberra, where he has taken his sides to 11 grand finals and five premierships.
Captain: Phil Waugh is an astonishing player with tremendous heart and skill. He is absolutely exemplary on the field and players can’t help but follow. The critical factor in the disastrous 2007 Super 14 was the fact that he missed most of it through a knee injury he sustained against the Cheetahs in Week Three of the tournament. His leadership will be vital.
Player(s) to watch: Prop and second row are the two positions where the Waratahs could struggle this year, with depth and experience key issues. It means front row forwards Alastair Baxter, Dan Palmer, Benn Robinson and Jeremy Tilse, along with locks Will Caldwell, Dean Mumm (a utility forward) and Chris Thomson will be crucial throughout the campaign.
2008 Position: Runners-up
Best finish: 2nd on the standings – losing finalists in 2005, 2008
Worst finish: 13th in 2007
Home Venue: Aussie Stadium (previously Sydney Football Stadium) (capacity 42,000)
2009 Prediction: You have to be brave to install the Waratahs as pre-season favourites or even suggest they are in with a shot at the play-offs. They do have some genuine talent, but no real depth. We feel it will be a mid-table finish at best.
Waratahs squad: Ben Batger, Alastair Baxter, Kurtley Beale, Luke Burgess, Will Caldwell, Matt Carraro, Tom Carter, David Dennis, Matt Dunning, Scott Fava, Adam Freier, Daniel Halangahu, Rob Horne, Sekope Kepu, Ben Mowen, Dean Mumm, Ratu Nasiganiyavi, Sam Norton-Knight, Wycliff Palu, Dan Palmer, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Beau Robinson, Benn Robinson, Brett Sheehan, Timana Tahu, Chris Thomson, Jeremy Tilse, Lote Tuqiri, Lachie Turner, Phil Waugh (captain)
Saturday, February 14: v Hurricanes, away
Friday, February 20: v Chiefs, home
Friday, February 27: v Highlanders, home
Friday, March 6: v Reds, home
Friday, March 13: v Brumbies, away
Saturday, March 21: v Crusaders, home
Friday, March 27: v Blues, away
Saturday, April 4: v Stormers, home
Saturday, April 11: v Bulls, home
Saturday, April 18: v Western Force, home
Saturday, April 25: BYE
Saturday, May 2: v Cheetahs, away
Saturday, May 9: v Sharks, away
Friday, May 15: v Lions, away
Courtesy of Rugby 365Tweet