Waratahs bracing for opening test

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

The Waratahs’ new sense of desire will be put to the test in the first three weeks of the season.

A home game against the Stormers before a trip to South Africa and Argentina could set their season up, or put it on the edge, by the time they return to Sydney to play the Rebels in round four.

South African success has been a springboard for the Waratahs in the past - they last won there in 2016 against the Stormers - but few Australian teams have found joy in Africa in recent seasons.

The Brumbies and Force clinched wins in Buenos Aires in 2017, strategies the Waratahs have drawn on in their planning.

Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson, coming into the last year of his contract, admitted the pressure was on for immediate results in 2018.

“Performance is critical this season,” Gibson said.

“We're conscious that people have stuck with us, our memberships, our ticket sales, so we know people want to support winners and they want to see people who are willing to get out there and die for their jersey.

“At times last year we didn't have that fight in us.

“It's something we've spoken about as a team, we want to make sure when we do play at home, that our fans see how much that means to us.”

Gibson said they had learned from their South African struggles last year, when they had a near-identical start.

“We got things wrong there (last year),” he said.

“Through the experience we'll plan differently, we know that's coming, we've emphasised and prioritised other areas, to make sure we're ready for those challenges.

“It's a difficult start and we've known that for a while, players know that and know what we need to know and do to be ready.”

Captain Michael Hooper said their performance overseas would potentially set the tone for the rest of their year, though they couldn't let that preoccupy them.

“It changes the way opposition teams think about you on the way into the season,” he said.

“There's two hugely opposing situations it could be in and teams instantly think differently about you and watch your games differently, (they’re) more nervous about you entering a season but that's a hindsight type of thing or a suck it and see when we get there.”

When it comes to desire, Hooper has been the least likely to have his questioned, but his challenge has been bringing the rest of the team along.

“He leads from the front. As a leader that's what you want,” he said.

“Hoops is a world-class developing leader.

“He's 26 with [79] caps for Australia, five seasons on the bounce for the Waratahs where I don't believe he's missed a game and he's been the best player for the last four years, voted by his peers.

“He's got a hell of a record and the boys follow him.

“Our challenge is to not only have him leading the charge but the 14 others as well.”

And it’s a challenge Hooper wants to accept.

“I'm learning a lot every day, it's never a finished thing or a finished product,” he said.

“I'm a year on, a year further into where I've been and I feel like I've learned a lot and I'm still keen to learn more and try and improve on how I'm going in that sort of area.”

The Waratahs take on the Stormers on Saturday February 24, kicking off at 7:45pm AEDT. Buy tickets here.