Hooper takes Tahs matters into his own hands

Super Rugby
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

There was no rope, there were no golf balls but there was something a little different employed at Monday’s Waratahs session.

The change was a message Waratahs skipper Michael Hooper gave to his teammates before the start of a three-match block that could make or break their season.

Hooper led the way to training but stopped his teammates from running onto the training pitch on their first field session after a bye, with players doing warm-up passes on the sideline, before he pulled them in to deliver a pointed address about commitment.

The sentiment was clear – no one is left behind, no one lets anyone else down and that approach starts now.

That mentality will be tested this weekend, as the Waratahs look to buck a trend of sluggish starts and burst out of the blocks against the Rebels, and lay a strike on the Brumbies’ top conference spot.

Plenty is riding on this Sunday’s game for the Waratahs, with each derby now one that coach Daryl Gibson said is effectively a mini-Wallabies audition.

“(With) Sean McMahon coming back into reckoning will certainly lift and treating each derby as a trial because essentially that’s what they are,” he said.

“The Australian derbies this year have been extra competitive and taken on more meaning, which is excellent for the conference.

“The way the conference is at the moment being so competitive, I’m sure it’s going to be very intense.”

Gibson is hoping for one of three most competitive lead-ins as well, with just three main squad players sitting out training – Jack Dempsey, Harry Jones and Michael Wells.

Dempsey is still recovering from a foot injury, while Wells and Jones suffered niggles in club rugby on the weekend, but are expected to be fit for Sunday.

Gibson said that clean bill of health put them in one of their best spots heading into the critical derby.

“We’re in a really fortunate position at the moment where we don’t have a lot of injuries and we’ve got a really stable squad right now to pick from and that’s going to increase competition,” he said.

“Particularly, given the (Super Rugby) competition, where it’s at, these games are huge and these are the ones that the player really want to play in.”

The Waratahs won their last clash against the Rebels with a David Horwitz try at the death, after trailing 25-6 at half-time, a stat line that has become a Waratahs trademark this year and Gibson said they simply needed to change.

“The first half in Melbourne, we dominated large parts of it with some excellent play, then really forced passes which created errors and put ourselves under pressure and didn’t come away with points,” he said.

That’s been the story of our season, where we’ve looked good at parts and not executed our passes and in the second half those passes stuck, we were very simple and pragmatic in our approach and we scored 26 points unanswered

"It was a similar story to the Blues game first half, weren’t able to hold possession for long periods create that pressure, second half we held the ball and scored five tries. Clearly for us the focus is on that.

“When we do these things we’re a very competitive team.”

The Waratahs take on the Rebels on Sunday afternoon, kicking off at 4:05pm AEST LIVE on FOX SPORTS and via RUGBY.com.au RADIO.Tickets on sale at http://www.waratahs.com.au.