The Waratahs' superstar attack has often been considered its greatest weapon but NSW coach Daryl Gibson says their 2019 results have given them reason to forge a new identity.
NSW sits second in the Australian conference after 10 rounds and it was a solid defensive effort, punctuated by plenty of in-play kicking, that helped them hold out the Rebels last weekend to close the gap on the ladder.
It was the type of win the Waratahs have pulled out in their most emphatic victories this season and points towards a shift in expectation.
By the end of last season, the Waratahs were third in the Super Rugby try-scoring tally, well clear of their Australian rivals.
The departure of Taqele Naiyaravoro last season meant they lost their leading try scorer, and the absence of Israel Folau will compound that, but still it was their Wallabies-laden backline that dominated the preseason conversation.
Ten weeks into this season, though, and the Waratahs sit equal-last in the Australian conference for tries scored and 12th overall.
Indeed, the Waratahs’ most convincing wins this season have come off the back of their defence- most notably, a statement win against the Crusaders but also victories over the Reds and then the Rebels.
In contract, when they have leant on their more obvious strengths and looked to take more risks in attack, they have had less pay - something that showed starkly in their two clashes against the Sunwolves this season.
Interestingly, they are also the Australian side who has opted to kick the most this season, sitting fourth overall in Super Rugby in that stat.
Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson said after Saturday’s match that NSW had begun to re-assess its approach.
“We're finding our way and finding an identity and a game style that suits us,” he said.
“It's strange halfway through the competition to say that, but we're (coming to the) realisation that we are a different side, we've got different strengths and we found during that bye period and reflected on where we need to go as a team and how we're going to win games.”
Flyhalf Bernard Foley said they were happy to win “ugly” but weren’t shying away from showing their flair.
“We want to be doing the flashy stuff but we'll take ugly wins,” he said.
“They're not ugly because they're so satisfying especially when we sit in the change room and are so content just to have that quiet moment with each other.
“That's the stuff that you play for, the stuff you can't replicate outside of this team environment and that's the stuff we've just got to chase.
“We've got to come in Monday and want to chase that again and get addicted to that feeling and replicate that each and every week.”
The Waratahs’ no-frills style will be tested in games against African sides both in Australia and on the road and Gibson admitted it was hard to gauge their upcoming opponents in a topsy turvy year.
“It's hard to get a read on things,” he said.
“A couple of games ago I thought the Sharks were the best team in Africa and two games later you start to question that.
“It’s hard to get a read on other teams and the teams we put out there each week are so different often so it's a different competition.”
The Waratahs take on the Sharks on Saturday April 27 at Bankwest Stadium, kivking off at 7:45pm AEST, LIVE on FOX SPORTS, Kayo Sports and via RUGBY.com.au RADIO. Buy tickets here.a