Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson has defended his players for their part in a dismal Super Rugby season, but admitted the side's leadership had to improve next season.
In a four-win year, Gibson has never once publicly rebuked his players, and again on Monday said the buck ultimately stopped with him.
“The first thing is I’m the coach and I’m responsible for the players’ performances,” he said.
“I’d be very loath to criticise the players. Out there, they are performing the game plans and structures that I’ve put in place.
“Certainly from my point of view they’re all out there trying their best and at times, that best isn’t good enough.”
Gibson said the players had taken their share of responsibility for the performances this season.
“When you have a captain like Michael Hooper, who’s led from the front all season, I don’t see it as an issue,” he said.
“Players ebb and flow - their form throughout the season follows that cycle.
“(Everyone’s) distressed, hurting, but that’s all part of the process of restoring ourselves and making sure we restore that pride back in our jersey.
“The sooner we can do that, the better.”
The Waratahs players and staff will gather for the Super Rugby final, before beginning training back up soon after, viewing the decider as the benchmark.
“We’re planning to get them together in two weeks’ time and to watch the final and see what it is we have to do to transform ourselves and be one of those two teams that are at the final,” he said.
“In terms of parting words (after round 17), it was more around extracting as much learning from the season that we've just experienced, ensuring whatever that learning is, it doesn’t happen again .
“That’s the type of response you’ve seen before from Waratahs teams when we've been at a low point - (we’ve) come out the following season and really done well.”
Waratahs captain Hooper, whose form provided some of the few positives for the side this year, said last week that the leadership group needed to improve and Gibson echoed that, saying that they will review that area.
“We went with quite an autonomous model, in the fact they were voted by their peers into those positions.
“I guess when we reflect on that - we’ll look to have four or five in that leadership group but it’s more around creating those leadership behaviours and less important about who the person is.”
The decision over whether the Force or Rebels is cut in 2018 will likely determine who completes the Waratahs roster, with Gibson saying the club is still looking for an outside centre.
“That’s what we’re all waiting for,” he said.
“There’s two excellent centres at both the Force and the Rebels, so we’ll wait and see what happens there.”