The Waratahs – Can They Handle It? - Green and Gold Rugby
NSW Waratahs

The Waratahs – Can They Handle It?

The Waratahs – Can They Handle It?

Israel Folau break (516)The Waratahs came up short again this week against the Cheetahs.

There were encouraging signs of form from Israel Folau, Paddy Ryan and Peter Betham.

Folau started to show off his aerial skills and I wonder why the Waratahs haven’t sought to exploit those skills more in attacking plays.

Ryan was very good and his fitness has obviously improved significantly, which allows him to get into position quickly enough to become a genuine ball running prop.

Betham showed some of the form we saw in his ITM Cup stint last year and I expect we’ll see him locking down one of the Waratahs wing spots as the season goes on.

Sekope Kepu and Drew Mitchell’s task of winning back a starting position just got a lot harder.

The biggest area that let the Waratahs down was wasted possession. Of the 46 times the Waratahs had possession they turned it over 19 times (41%) – of those turnovers, nine (47%) came from handling errors and nine happened at the breakdown.

After four competition matches players must be starting to understand the new style of play and you’d expect that the execution of basic skills would have improved. So, is that the case with the Waratahs? In the previous three matches the Waratahs have conceded turnovers on 40% of their possessions with 53% through handling errors and 23% at the breakdown. Overall the Waratahs turned over more possession in this match than in their previous three. Their level of handling errors was better while their breakdown performance was worse, not an improvement as some would have you believe.

No team can win matches without being able to control the ball, as the Reds showed against the Force last week when they turned over 34% of their possessions, with 50% of those losses coming from handling errors and 44% at the breakdown.

So, why are the Waratahs failing to control their possession?

At the breakdown the problems remain the same as in previous weeks:  support players not getting to the breakdown fast enough and when they arrive, poor accuracy in cleaning out players and protecting the ball to deny the opposition a chance to make a turnover.

The level of handling errors is perplexing and must be causing Michael Cheika sleepless nights. Handling is a basic skill and should not regularly be such an issue for a professional team. I’ve never forgotten the advice I once received regarding error counts: a team that doesn’t try things in attack will have a very low handling error count. But the game plan the Waratahs are using is not that difficult or new. It’s not a high risk game plan in which the ball is being shifted around too such an extent that errors are to be expected.

What do you make of these handling issues?

  • Patrick

    Folau started to show off his aerial skills and I wonder why the Waratahs haven’t sought to exploit those skills more in attacking plays.

    I know!! If only he had already played for elite Rugby clubs/teams where they could have tried him out at things and he could have demonstrated his abilities with, eg, the high ball….

    oh wait… and

  • Richo

    Scott, I’d be really interested to see some a similar graphic for the Chiefs. Obviously they don’t make as many errors as the Tahs, but my feeling is that many of the top teams are now willing to chance their arm and hence do turn the ball a fair bit. The issue is where you turn it over — turning the ball over inside the attacking 22 isn’t good, but you often get the ball back in good field position, particularly if structure and pressure were maintained.

  • Parra

    Yes, way too many turnovers. The ruck turnovers you can understand: still too slow in support, not accurate enough as mentioned. They obviously have work to do still. A good training exercise would be to watch the Brumbies v. Sharks first half then try to execute some of the urgent support running/backing up for off-loads, which is really how the Waratahs are hoping to play I think. The thing I can’t understand/accept is the dropped-cold balls and balls lost in contact – that’s just inexcusable so far into the season.

    Aerial skills. Absolutely, Folau must be exploited more there. A couple of weeks ago (I think on his first kick-off) Foley dopped a beautiful short one just over the 10m line (Carter style) which Folau duly regathered. He tried exactly the same thing on the next one and it didn’t go 10 or didn’t come off and that was the last try for the whole game. Foley is able to do that nice little dab kick-off and he should be trying it every other kick.

    Do you have Dennis’s stats at hand? Did he improve his ‘first to the breakdown’ %? And following on from the last time this came up, do his hit-ups and tackle stats make up for the poor first to the breakdown numbers?

    • Parra
    • Lee Grant

      Parra – you are right about the 1st half of the Sharks v Brumbies game as an example of good execution of passing and catching.

      For a time there I was mentally criticising them for making too many low percentage off-loads, but bugger me – they all stuck.

      I have watched the Tahs train a lot and it’s not for a lack of effort from the coaches in practising these things. Maybe they’re not training it smart enough or maybe the players just aren’t coachable.

      One thing that has struck me – in 2012 and 2013 in particular, but in earlier years also – is that Tahs’ players are too often surprised when the ball is passed to them instead of always expecting a pass when they are in the vicinity.
      But there is hope. One of the players always exasperated me because he caught the ball as though he were a volleyball player – slapping it forward. He had the hardest hands since the young Rodney Marsh.

      But he’s OK now – Paddy Ryan.

      • Parra

        Do they run off each other’s hips in training waiting for an offload (or pop off the ground), or more a wider out runner waiting for a pass? Again, this all sounds like very elementary stuff. Shouldn’t be too hard to fix?

    • Scott Allen

      Dennis’s breakdown performance deteriorated again this week – only first to 2 of 93 rucks (2%).

      • Parra

        Jeez, what is he doing then? WIll have to rewatch the tape. It’s pretty hard to hide these days.

  • Graeme

    The handling is a hard one to explain. It can’t really be put down just coaching, because a lot of those catch skills should have been learnt in under 11’s, even if the pressure is a bit higher at super level.
    But for the rest the Waratahs they should just be watching Brumbies clips. I haven’t been able to watch the Sharks game yet. But from the previous week, Id say that what they did absolutely brilliantly, was absolutely nothing! They just did things perfectly. One of those was supporting the ball carrier. As soon as contact was made the clear-out was quick, accurate and gave no opportunity to slow down the ball. And their decision-making in their own red-zone wasn’t brilliant either. Because they made no decisions. They just kicked it down the other end of the field and relieved all pressure off themselves.
    The contrast with the Waratahs is painful. Attacking rugby is great. But trying to attack in your own 22 is not a time proven method of winning games. And likewise the policy of lagging support runner is failing. Even if they weren’t getting turned over so often, it is allowing their ball to be slowed down so they can never get clean ball out after.

NSW Waratahs

Scott is one of our regular contributors from the old days of G&GR. He has experience coaching Premier Grade with two clubs in Brisbane.

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