The Waratahs were pleased today to announce that Cliffy Palu and Matt Lucas had returned to the Waratahs’ squad.
Palu, who has 121 Super Rugby caps for the Waratahs, was due to play in Japan but was unable to, following the hamstring injury he suffered playing for the Wallabies against Uruguay in the Rugby World Cup.
He was close to having an operation and when it was resolved that he wouldn’t go to Japan he accepted a one-season contract at the Tahs but would go to Japan to fulfil the second year of his overseas contract obligation.
When asked to compare last year’s coach with this, Palu said with a smile that Head Coach Daryl Gibson wasn’t as as vocal as Michael Cheika but he still got his message across.
As for what rugby they will play:
We’ve still got the same principles; we still want to play attacking rugby
Lucas played for the Waratahs in 2013 but was sidelined by the return of Nick Phipps to Sydney in 2014. However his strong form for the Manly Marlins in the Shute Shield and for the North Harbour Rays in the NRC made him the logical choice to back up Phipps in 2016.
He said the dream never left him and he loved the place and the mates he had at the Tahs. Not being wanted last year was a reality check:
You have to cherish what you’ve got here and and enjoy it, but at the same time you have to earn every bit of it.
38 players were listed by the Waratahs—29 were named in the Core Playing Squad (with a flyhalf to be added); three in the Extended Playing Squad, and five in the Supplementary Squad.
The 2016 NSW Waratahs Core Playing Squad
(Additional flyhalf to be added)
Extended playing squad
Matt Sandell (hooker/prop); Tom Robertson (prop); Jake Gordon (scrumhalf)
Senio Toleafoa (lock); Ryan McCauley (lock); Andrew Deegan (flyhalf); Henry Clunies-Ross (back 3); Harry Jones (back 3)
Green & Gold Rugby understands that the 30th player to be named is another Japan-based flyhalf, but let’s “watch this space”.
The difference in these categories is pertinent. Only payments to the core squad players are counted for the salary cap. There are cost limitations on EPS players and each franchise has a certain number they are allowed to have. The Waratahs have a minimum of two and a maximum of four.
All supplementary squad players are paid $750 per week for the time they are contracted, but this can vary from two weeks to a year.
Like many teams in professional rugby after a Rugby World Cup, the Waratahs have lost some of their stars to offshore clubs and a few to other domestic Super Rugby teams to plug gaps there. Palu mentioned that fellows like Kepu and Ashley-Cooper will be missed just for their presence around the team, let alone their rugby ability.
It is a youthful squad, which is both a problem and an opportunity.
The Waratahs left a place open for a young player to join the top group. Coonamble lad Ned Hanigan, the Aussie Under 20s MVP last year, who plays with energy and is a clever lineout caller, became the bolter in the core squad; well done him.
The profile of the squad has been discussed in an earlier blog but it needs emphasising that either Paddy Ryan or Angus Ta’avao has to step into the shoes of Sekope Kepu immediately.
The lineout needs to get back to the basics of calling, throwing, moving, lifting, catching, timing and simplicity; yet the personnel named does not inspire confidence in these areas. Let’s see though.
By contrast the back row seems to be a pudding that has been over-egged.
Lucas is a good acquisition to back up Phipps but the rest of back line is a Rubik cube of possibilities—as one thing changes others have to also.
The danger is that it may take to long too settle on a starting backline—and not let’s talk about backup goal-kickers or those who can kick with their left foot.
The Wallabies were all back in town and training, except for Bernard Foley-san. Some of them struggled in the afternoon heat today but others like Michael Hooper and Nick Phipps looked like they had been running up sandhills for months.
Of the non-Wallabies, wingers Reece Robinson and All Black Zac Guildford looked fast and fit, but one young contracted player spent some time leaning over and calling for “Ruth”.
Palu is a fan of Guildford and praised him for “his high work rate and the way he hops around the field.”
He did look impressive and let’s all hope that Zac has a happy time here.
Photos by Lee Grant