Super Rugby report card: NSW Waratahs

Super Rugby
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

There’s no beating around the bush - this was statistically, and intuitively, the worst Waratahs Super Rugby season ever.

By the end of their 40-11 final round loss to the Force, fans and players seemed as exhausted as each other.

There is change coming, on and off the field, and there simply has to be.

HIGH POINT

A big 50-23 win against the Rebels proved to be the most celebrated Waratahs moment this year.

It was the game that marked Israel Folau’s return to form after a mediocre start, and breathed some life back into the NSW season.

Outside of that, patches lit the competition on fire, even against New Zealand teams, but their fades in and out of matches hurt them.

LOW POINT

You could take your pick here, but the loss to the Kings in Sydney was the game that really twisted a knife in an already painful Waratahs year.

The defeat at the hands of the Jaguares was another disappointment, but it was the loss to the perennial Super Rugby battlers that put them squarely in their place in 2017.

Their final round showing against the Force was a dismal way to end the season, outplayed and beaten in the hunger stakes by the Perth side in their final chance to glean back some positivity.

MVP

Michael Hooper is looking for answers. Photo: Getty ImagesIt’s pretty much Michael Hooper and daylight when discussing the Waratahs’ best player this season.

In his first full season as sole captain, Hooper has been thrown a steep learning curve, but it hasn’t affected him on the field.

The 25-year-old made the most tackles of any Australian player this season (147), and the most carries of any Waratahs player even ahead of 

His next challenge is to bring the rest of the team along with him.

SURPRISE PACKET

Ned Hanigan started the season as a promising back-up lock, and ended it as a Wallabies blindside flanker.

Had it not been for Jack Dempsey’s early-season ankle injury Hanigan may still have been riding the bench as second-row cover, but his switch to six was a revelation.

Hanigan finished with three tries from 12 Super Rugby matches and brought some of the much-desired grit that the Waratahs and Wallabies need.

The emergence of halfback Jake Gordon and the early-season form of Tolu Latu were also good signs.

UNDERACHIEVER

The senior group of players sets the tone but the Waratahs’ next generation probably showed more concerning signs.

While other teams found gems in and amongst their rookies, it was the drop away in players like second-year back Andrew Kellaway that would have fans hoping he just had the second-year blues.

Kellaway was on the Wallabies’ Spring Tour last year but was nowhere near that this season, spending close to half the season injured or in club rugby.

On the other end of the scale, Wallabies halfback Nick Phipps found himself down the pecking order as well, with Gordon’s emerging form and badly-timed injuries not helping his cause.

WHAT NEEDS TO CHANGE IN 2018

The Waratahs need to get their edge back, starting with defence.

NSW had the worst tackle success of any Super Rugby side this season and finished the year conceding 40+ points in the final four matches for the first time in history.

While their attack at times had spark, that inability to stop the opposition scoring, particularly in the opening stages of games, rendered that almost irrelevant.

Discipline is another major concern, with Hooper, Latu and Dean Mumm among the 10 most penalised players in the competition and the equal-second most yellow cards.

Slow starts have become a pesky characteristic as well, with NSW conceding 38 tries in the first halves of games this season, a number worse than all but the Sunwolves.

All of those issues seemingly point to one major issue - attitude.

The whole team needs to be on the same page and putting everything on the field in 2018, otherwise little will change.

Waratahs final grade: E

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