Wallabies legend Andrew Blades admits he's ready to take on the challenge of rebuilding the Waratahs after their disappointing 2020 campaign.
Blades was announced as the Waratahs GM of Rugby after an extensive search, linking up with new coach Darren Coleman having previously linked up during their stint with the NSW Country Eagles.
The World Cup-winning prop has spent the past three years working at one of the biggest rugby schools in Australia, St Joseph’s College.
He believes his time there has shown the talent available as he embraces the challenge of rebuilding the winless Waratahs.
“I definitely didn’t have any reservations. I felt there was a really good challenge that was too hard to not take on and see where I can make a difference,” Blades said on Monday to reporters.
“Being in that next level down, you see there’s a lot of great young players and you see how many young kids are getting straight from school being pulled into French contracts.
“The great thing about rugby is it’s a world game and there’s opportunities for players all over the world to go and play. The challenge for us is to create that situation here where it’s an attractive place to play and want to go to develop their career.
“…The big thing is we to make sure the players that we need to be successful are staying here, and if a player does go over because we can’t retain because of squad numbers or finances, we then keep the connection with them and are in a position to bring them back when we need them and hopefully they’re richer for the experience that they have had overseas.”
As the club begins its 'reset', CEO Paul Doorn revealed the club is looking to attract further pieces to bolster their roster, particular in the tight five and across the back three.
“We still haven’t finalised our roster yet…for us, the goal still remains around (attracting) tight-head lock and tight-head prop and someone quite explosive in the back three,” Doorn said.
“We’ve been talking about that for a while, Darren’s only just got his feet behind the desk, even though it’s in a hotel (quarantine). We just need a little bit more time to work through that.”
However, arguably their most influential signing for '22 will come from within as Michael Hooper returns from his Japanese sabbatical.
Blades believes his presence will be vital for the inexperienced team as they look to take the next step.
“You could see there was a huge amount of effort there from the boys and the experience to maintain pressure on teams wasn’t there, especially when the injuries started to come,” he admits.
“Having 'Hoops' back in and around the group will be huge for those guys confidence. Those guys who were thrown in the deep end, having that experience and an offseason under their belts, I think this will be one of the most important offseasons, to see those guys go through the hard work to get to that next level and be able to compete.
“They have a taste at that level and I think the hard work begins to build for next year."
RECOVERING: Kefu recovering well after stabbing
WARNING: Legends dismiss Giteau Law changes
STEPPING UP: Blades named as Waratahs GM
In order to facilitate their development, Blades concedes they need to find a way to bolster their game time with no NRC and the cancellation of Shute Shield.
Whilst the club are currently restricted by lockdown conditions, restricted to work in groups no more than ten, he confirmed they will explore their options towards the back end of the season.
"We’re in an unknown space about how things are going to develop. The ideal (situation) is for those guys who haven’t played to get some games for," he added.
“…For DC (Darren Coleman) coming in, he’s been part of the landscape having only one year out of it but maybe the wider guys who haven’t had a chance to show on that stage.
"A couple of years ago we had the NRC which whilst not everyone followed from a point of view of connection but it did provide for the Reds and others another pathway to see how those guys coped at the next level physically and mentally.
“Any opportunity we can find in that December period hopefully, we definitely looking into.”