Waratahs aim for title despite mass exodus

Wed, 17/02/2021, 07:16 am
Justin Chadwick - AAP
by Justin Chadwick - AAP
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More than 1500 caps of Waratahs experience has walked out the door, but NSW coach Rob Penney believes his side has the potential to stun the doubters by winning this year's Super Rugby AU title.

NSW have experienced arguably the biggest player drain in their history over the past two years, with Adam Ashley-Cooper, Michael Hooper, Rob Simmons, Nick Phipps, Israel Folau, Sekope Kepu, Kurtley Beale, and Bernard Foley among the stars who have left.

The Waratahs were dealt a fresh blow this week when Wallabies forward Jack Dempsey announced he would be leaving at the end of the season to join the Glasgow Warriors.

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The exodus of 1560 caps has left Penney with a near blank canvas to work with, and it's an opportunity he's embracing.

Penney faced a similarly daunting challenge in 2012 when he took over at Irish club Munster, and he was able to guide them to immediate success.

"We were equally down on what you would traditionally call experience, but we went on to make two Heineken Cup semi-finals and a Pro-14 semi-final," Penney told AAP.

"Sometimes change just needs to be embraced. It's just the way it is."

The changes over the past two years have robbed the Waratahs of more than 800 caps of Wallabies experience.

A few of the departing players - including prop Tom Robertson - have either publicly or privately cited off-field issues as one of the big reasons for their decision to leave the Waratahs.

Penney is adamant there's a strong culture at the club, and says some players simply struggled to adapt to change.

"Change often causes anxiety, and there's been massive changes," Penney said.

"Some of the people had been here a long time. If it's not the way it used to be, then sometimes people see that as being not positive.

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"But certainly there was some change undertaken, and people make their own decisions about whether they embrace it or not. We've got a great group here now."

As for a realistic goal for 2021?

"Well, we could win it," Penney said.

"The belief comes from the boys, the way in which they are growing, and on the back of some pretty pleasing performances towards the back end of Rugby AU last year.

"I do have faith in youth. I don't necessarily go with, 'you've got to have a lot of age or a lot of caps under your belt to win stuff', because I've won stuff in NZ with a very young side."

The Waratahs begin their Super Rugby AU campaign against the Queensland Reds at Suncorp Stadium on Friday.

DEPARTED PLAYERS SINCE 2019 AND NUMBER OF WARATAHS CAPS

Kurtley Beale - 148 caps
Tatafu Polota-Nau - 144 caps
Sekope Kepu - 140 caps
Michael Hooper - 121 caps
Bernard Foley - 120 caps
Israel Folau - 96 caps
Nick Phipps - 87 caps
Adam Ashley-Cooper - 76 caps
Damien Fitzpatrick - 73 caps
Jed Holloway - 63 caps
Tom Robertson - 62 caps
Tolu Latu - 59 caps
Ned Hanigan - 51 caps
Michael Wells - 46 caps
Rob Simmons - 43 caps
Tom Staniforth - 42 caps
Cameron Clark - 39 caps
Curtis Rona - 31 caps
Will Miller - 29 caps
Karmichael Hunt - 23 caps
Mitch Short - 16 caps
Rory O'Connor - 12 caps
Ryan McCauley - 10 caps
Mack Mason - 8 caps
Andrew Tuala - 7 caps
Shambeckler Vui - 5 caps
Michael McDonald - 4 caps
Pat Tafa - 2 caps
Tautalatasi Tasi - 1 cap
Siosifa Lisala - 1 cap
Nick Malouf - 1 cap

TOTAL: 1560 caps

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