The reviews are done, the changes have been made to the coaching structure, the players recruited and a new home found. It is against this backdrop that the NSW Waratahs are preparing for in 2018.
The team’s pre-season trials are locked in, with two games against 2015 Super Rugby champions the Highlanders in Queenstown on 2 February and the Melbourne Rebels at Brookvale Oval in Sydney on 15 February, plus the Global Brisbane Tens in mid-February.
But the challenge of this coming season is not lost on Head Coach Daryl Gibson, who has also taken on the role of defence coach to complete a coaching trio of Backs Coach Chris Malone and new recruit Simon Cron, who will coach the forwards.
“This year is about delivering on our potential and that message has been made very clear to the players and our coaching group. We have the talent and experience, now it’s about ensuring that we perform and reach our goals, earn the respect and support of our fans and members and live up to the proud history and heritage of New South Wales rugby,” Gibson said.
The squad of 2018 features some of Australian rugby’s most experienced players, led by captain Michael Hooper, Kurtley Beale, Israel Folau, Bernard Foley and Nick Phipps. Coupled with the recruitment of Rob Simmons and Curtis Rona, the retention of Tom Robertson and the signing of a string of talented players in Lalakai Foketi, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Will Miller, Alex Newsome, Nick Palmer, JP Sauni, Lachlan Swinton, Shambeckler Vui and Cody Walker.
“2018 is a new start for us, at a new home with a new attitude and approach. We are fully aware of the expectations there are of us as a team and me as a coach. Aside from the obvious goal of winning, we want to implement a style of play that we are known for. At the same time, we want to be a fit and mobile team which is reflective of the players we have recruited.”
“We have put a strong emphasis on strength and conditioning in our pre-season preparations. This is one area that let us down in previous years and if we want to play an expansive, positive game of rugby, our players need to be in the physical condition to do so for 80 minutes,” Gibson said.
One of the key changes in the coaching structure is the addition of former Australian Under 20s coach Simon Cron, who coached promising front rowers Johnson-Holmes, Vui and Walker in the national team in 2017. Gibson rates him highly.
“Crono brings a wealth of experience to the coaching group with an exceptional knowledge of our younger players and how to help them become the best.”
Another change will see Gibson take over the role of defence coach left vacant by Nathan Grey, who is now with the Wallabies.
“It’s a super challenge taking on the defence brief but I’m loving it. Defence is pretty simple when you boil it down; it’s effort-related and a collective desire and that’s what we have been working on,” Gibson said.
Pre-season games offer the coach the chance to try new combinations and give the younger players the opportunity to get a taste for rugby at international level.
“We are under no illusions about the quality of the opposition we will be playing in Queenstown and at Brookvale Oval. The Highlanders won this competition the year after us and they have continued to be competitive and tough to beat at home.
“We will also face a new-look Rebels side that has invested heavily in the off season so there will be pressure on them to perform. There is no doubt that we will have our work cut out for us, and it’s a challenge that we accept because that is the nature of the competition.
“Super Rugby remains one of the toughest provincial competitions in the world with the best players of the five countries playing in it. For our younger players this is an exciting opportunity to showcase their talent and ability on a global stage,” Gibson said.
The axing of the Western Force, Southern Kings and the Cheetahs has changed the structure of the Super Rugby competition, which features the return of local derbies and teams playing 8 home matches.
This change of pace has really excited Gibson, particularly with the increase in derby matches.
“Some of our players (and coaching staff) still remember the former Super 10 and Super 12 competitions when the anticipation of a derby match rivalled that of a Test match. 2018 offers us the opportunity to bring that rivalry to life.”
The NSW Waratahs kick off their Super Rugby campaign against the Stormers on 24 February at Allianz Stadium. Tickets for the match are available through Ticketek.