Crunch game this week for the Waratahs. Up against the Sharks, who last game pushed the Hurricanes to the limit, we will find out whether they have learnt from last week.
Nathan Grey called it: “I would rate the game against the Force a three out of ten, it was very disappointing to say the least, so a three is probably a generous rating.”
Can the Waratahs re-learn their playbook?
In the second half of last season, the Waratahs played a game that other teams found impossible to counter. When they came up against a team who tried, like the Force did last week, to turn every ruck into a dogfight and to slow play down every way they could, the Waratahs just lifted a gear and played faster. They offloaded in the tackle to runners on the burst to beat the tight defence and found holes by stressing the opposition line till they opened up.
Matt Rowley described that gameplan in an article in 2013 as “…it’s a super high tempo, multi phase, ball in hand approach that even the Crusaders couldn’t stick with in the first half of their clash a few weeks back.”
Occasionally that gamebook has come out again this year. The Waratahs played it pretty well against the Hurricanes, for the Hurricanes only loss this year. But up against teams that play ultra-defensive kicking games and try to slow down the tempo, the Waratahs appear to be playing in a sea of blancmange. Fast rucks disappear, and the team’s play gets dragged down to the level of the opposition and then they lose because they’re not used to playing it.
What do the Sharks have to do to win?
Basically just use the same game that nearly won it for them last week. That was almost the exact gameplan that the Force used against the Waratahs so very successfully. The Sharks have a better front row and a better lineout so the Waratahs will again be under the pump at set piece. The Sharks have a good rolling maul and with the way it is being refereed these days it is the preferred option anywhere in the 22. Then the key is the ruck, where the strategy has to be to get their hands on the ball and don’t let go. No referee I’ve seen this year is penalising that offence consistently. The Sharks backline play was occasionally impressive last week and should not be underestimated. If the Waratahs play to form there will be plenty of turnover opportunities. And lastly, every penalty within 55 metres is a risk with Frans Steyn on deck.
Turnovers have killed the Waratahs this year. In the first half of last year, handling and offloading were significant problems, but then in the second half everything gelled, passes stuck and the football was magnificent. This year we are well past half way and only in patches have we seen the ball security in rucks and the slick hands in the backs that is necessary for the gameplan. Even Izzy has dropped a few. Keep your eye on the turnover stat at half time. If its into double digits then the Waratahs will probably lose.
Speeding up the rucks is essential. The accuracy of the cleanout last week and often this year has been poor and sometimes what looks like poor ball security by the runner has actually been a poor cleanout from his supports. The forward play must improve if the Waratahs are to make the finals, starting this week.
The back play has lost some of its dynamism – Ashley-Cooper and Folau have been quiet, Beale has been over-playing his hand and the best player has been Naiyaravoro, the only non-Wallaby.
More needed from these two this week
The Waratahs themselves were embarrassed with their play last week and I expect there will be a significant improvement in intensity against the Sharks. For only this reason, I am tipping the Waratahs in a close one, with the margin no more than five.
Waratahs v Sharks
|Benn Robinson||1||Tendai Mtawarira|
|Tolu Latu||2||Bismarck du Plessis|
|Sekope Kepu||3||Jannie du Plessis|
|Will Skelton||4||Stephan Lewies|
|David Dennis||5||Marco Wentzel|
|Stephen Hoiles||6||Marcell Coetzee|
|Michael Hooper||7||Etienne Oosthuizen|
|Wycliff Palu||8||Renaldo Bothma|
|Nick Phipps||9||Stefan Ungerer|
|Bernard Foley||10||Lionel Cronje|
|Rob Horne||11||S'bura Sithole|
|Kurtley Beale||12||Francois Steyn|
|Adam Ashley-Cooper||13||JP Pietersen|
|Taqele Naiyaravoro||14||Odwa Ndungane|
|Israel Folau||15||Lwazi Mvovo|
|Hugh Roach||16||Franco Marais|
|Jeremy Tilse||17||Dale Chadwick|
|Paddy Ryan||18||Lourens Adriaanse|
|Mitchell Chapman/Jed Holloway||19||Mouritz Botha|
|Jack Dempsey/Tala Gray||20||Kyle Cooper|
|Pat McCutcheon||21||Conrad Hoffmann|
|Brendan McKibbin||22||Andre Esterhuizen|
|Matt Carraro/Peter Betham||23||Waylon Murray|
|Location:||Allianz Stadium, Sydney|
|Kickoff:||Sat 16 May 19:40|
|Assistant Ref 1:||Angus Gardner|
|Assistant Ref 2:||Will Houston|
|TMO :||George Ayoub|