The NSW Waratahs enter 2016 with a new coach, a new captain and a handful of new combinations to test out. Can they continue their recent run of success?
IN: Angus Ta’avao (Blues), Brad Wilkin (Reds/Australian Sevens), Matt Lucas (Manly), Bryce Hegarty (Toyota), Zac Guildford (Hawke’s Bay), Reece Robinson (Parramatta Eels),
OUT: Michael Alaalatoa (Crusaders), Sekope Kepu (Bordeaux), Mitchell Chapman (retired), Tala Gray (Toulouse), Pat McCutcheon (Sevens), Jacques Potgieter (Sharks), Stephen Hoiles (retired), Brendan McKibbin (London Irish), Jono Lance (Force), Adam Ashley-Cooper (Bordeaux), Peter Betham (Leicester Tigers), Taqele Naiyaravoro (Glasgow Warriors), Ben Volavola (Crusaders)
Trial form: The Waratahs had a trio of tight trials games, winning in the last minute of their opener of the Brumbies before going down to the Chiefs and the Highlanders by a try or less. Their new recruits have been impressive in the preseason finding the try line and creating some exciting attack.
Why they can win:
The culture that has been built at the Waratahs under Michael Cheika will need to continue under Daryl Gibson. They have internationals across the park in their match day squad, many of whom have only improved from experiences at the 2015 Rugby World Cup. That class will make them competitive against every side.
Where they need to improve:
Their depth could be an issue this season. Their starting 23 is one of the best in the competition but a couple of injuries could derail that star-studded lineup. Foley’s injury has been the first test of that, with the playmaker hurting his shoulder in their final trial. Daryl Gibson has moved to grow leadership throughout the team after the departure of players like Adam Ashley-Cooper, Sekope Kepu and Jacques Potgieter and that will be critical in 2016.
Superstar: Kurtley Beale
Kurtley Beale is shaping as one of the most valuable players in the Waratahs setup. His World Cup performances have given him plenty of confidence and his ability to slot in just about anywhere on the backline make him almost impossible to replace. He’s been handed the keys to the Waratahs backline through the trials and for the opening round in the absence of Bernard Foley, a job that Gibson has said he wouldn’t have entrusted him with just a year ago.. His mere inclusion in the team allows Gibson to experiment with backline combinations.
X Factor: Zac Guildford
The former All Black has come relatively quietly into the Waratahs fold. A teenage prodigy, Guildford’s off-field issues have been well documented and Gibson has said keeping him on track remains an ongoing challenge for the outside back. There is a reason that he did crack Test level at just 19 and his form in the trials has indicated he wants to repay the Waratahs’ faith in him. Could be a game breaker for his new team.
Rising star: David Horwitz
Horwitz already holds a unique record, set to become the first Jewish Super Rugby player when he debuts against the Reds. Generally playing 10 as he worked his way through the junior ranks, Horwitz provides some strong ball-playing skills at inside centre. Has combined well with Beale in the preseason and that duo will continue to improve in the coming weeks.
What the coach says:
“We've had two excellent trials in the last couple of weeks and guys are on track. We’ve had a number of our Wallabies return and the form of Israel Folau in the last trial was pleasing.”