Assistant coach Nathan Grey confided yesterday that the 2017 Waratahs will write their own script and not be concerned about which players were not with the team for the upcoming Super Rugby season.
After the Waratahs had their last training run at the Kippax Field at Moore Park yesterday before the NSW Wallabies return to the squad next week, he indicated that the past had already happened and the future was now.
As in earlier years before the Wallabies came back after their break, the coaches invited some of the Under 20 players to participate with the depleted senior squad and the youngsters were not fazed at all.
As usual drills were performed in chunks of time and players had to get to one place to another as in a game situation. Mates weren’t worried about knocking over mates either—they were competition.
Assistant Coach (Defence), Nathan Grey, remarked that the squad had got a lot of early content before the Xmas break, but were now being asked to put that into hit-out drills and asked to work under pressure.
His thoughts about the 2017 Super Rugby competition were not surprising: the Kiwis would be strong and consistent again as there hadn’t been “a lot of shift in their playing group”, and the Sunwolves and Jaguares would be better in their second year in the tournament.
He was pleased that the Waratahs would visit South Africa early to match themselves against the Lions, the 2016 Finalists, in Round 2, and the tough Sharks, a Wild Card team last year, a week later. An early trip would help with team bonding.
Grey said that the profile of the team had changed but he was not fazed about losing some name players:
It’s significantly younger—it’s the nature of the way things are at the moment: the opportunities for the guys to play elsewhere.
[Head Coach] Daryl Gibson and [General Manager of Rugby] Tim Rapp, have done an excellent job in terms of our recruitment—90 percent of the squad are New South Wales born and bred, and we have a real core connection of guys who have been here a while and a few young leaders who need that opportunity to step up.
It was always an evolving process in the professional era. If experienced players left, the returning players had to get to a higher level:
The expectation is that you’re better, that you’re more consistent, that it doesn’t take you as long to pick things up—that you start to lead the way […] for the new guys coming in to learn from your example.
As for comparison with a disappointing 2016 and likewise with 2015, and especially 2014 when they won the competition:
We are writing our own script; so that’s something we should all be excited about and you can see it in the training already – that the guys know they have a real opportunity to [make their mark] as the 2017 Waratahs.
We’ve got everything in front of us and the sky’s the limit.
The favourite to start as blindside flanker, Jack Dempsey, got to tour with the Wallabies in November and played for the Australian Barbarians against the French Barbarians in Bourdeaux.
His immediate future was in doubt then because he had damaged his neck during Super Rugby. It was his first real injury set-back in his short career, including at school, but he recovered in time to prove his fitness to the national coach.
Dempsey mentioned that he got the news that he was touring when he came out of the movies and had phone messages from Tahs’ team mates Andrew Kellaway and Ned Hanigan that he was in the squad.
Asked why he was chosen to tour he thought that, just as Waratahs’ coach, Michael Cheika, had elevated Kellaway and him from Sydney club rugby to Super Rugby to see how they coped, he wanted to repeat the process for the national team.
Touring was interesting and an instructive highlight was watching how David Pocock prepared himself for training and the games.
As for the Tahs’ backrow which would be missing the physical Palu and Dennis he said:
I’m definitely here to make my own statement, to put my own footprint in the sand, and I’m definitely looking to bring that edge to the forward pack.
Some leadership would be missed up front but (prop) Paddy Ryan and (hooker) Damien Fitzpatrick were making their mark as leaders already and there were some youngsters who were promising too.
Asked what his goals were, the November Wallaby tourist said:
The Australian jersey is definitely a goal of mine in the short term and that’s something I’m not ashamed to admit—and in terms of [the Waratahs]: I’m looking to own the 6 jersey.
Coach Grey remarked about Dempsey:
He ticks a lot of boxes in terms of what you want [from a six] he’s a jumping backrower; he’s a dominant ball carrier; he’s a very good defender.
It will be a young backrow: Dempsey is 22, Brad Wilkin is just 21, Michael Wells is 23, Jed Holloway 24; and the ancient Michael Hooper is 25.
It may be young but it’s chock-full of talent and toughness.
Photos by Lee Grant