Individual report cards:
Well done good and faithful servants:
So many squad members will not be suiting up next year. Most acquitted themselves with distinction.
10. Kurtley Beale: Up until he wrecked his knee against the Bulls he had been our best player and had he stayed healthy the season might have ended better. His ability to read the play and his combination with Folau was so instictive it was a joy to watch.
9. Dave Dennis: Had some exceptional games, particularly in the second half of the season. He will be missed.
7. Matt Carraro: The very definition of a journeyman, he stepped in when required to do his job. Lacked the top end speed to be a star, but could always be relied upon.
5. Zac Guilford: Form was very variable and although his behaviour was OK his underlying mental state was not. Left early to return to NZ.
7. Sam Lousi: Was good without challenging for the starters role. Why he is going to the Hurricanes, where Fatialofa and Fifita are firmly established, is a mystery. With Dennis gone and Mumm doubtful it doesn’t make sense that he wants to move unless his family is homesick.
7. Dean Mumm: Is he staying? At time of writing it was still unknown. Played mostly at 6 and had some good moments, but was also responsible for the lineout.
8. Wycliff Palu: Has copped a heap from the critics but never from me or his team-mates. His contribution against the Chiefs was thunderous.
8. Tatafu Polota-Nau: No news yet, though he’s probably moving north. Was off his game in the first half of the season, plus he was a few weeks injured, but by the end was looking better than Moore and clearly Australia’s best hooker.
6. Benn Robinson: A Waratahs’ favourite and at his best was world class. His season was crimped by injuries and the eye injury was the last straw. A sad way for such a hero to go out.
7. Jeremy Tilse: A loose head prop with limited skills, but his body bleeds sky blue. Another journeyman who will be missed for what he brings to the squad. He never, ever let the team down.
9. Jack Dempsey: Forced his way into the starting line-up with some great play off the bench. A real keeper.
7. Ned Hanigan: Did not look out of place in his appearances off the bench. One for the future.
5. Bryce Hegarty: Season-ending injury in his first appearance. If he rehabs OK he will be an asset.
10. Jed Hollaway: Another “what might have been”, crippled by injury. He is a dynamic running 8, the like of which we don’t usually produce in Australia. His play in the open in the first half of the season reminded me of Kieran Read at his best.
5. Dave Horwitz: Shute player of the year last year but sadly that form didn’t translate to Super rugby. Ended the season on the bench and will have to step up next year or be discarded. Dropped too much ball and passed poorly – not a good look for a 12 and his missed tackle count was a disaster.
8. Andrew Kellaway: Brought in to 15 when Folau was moved to 13 and looked at home in Super Rugby from the moment he stepped onto the pitch. He needs to work on his kicking game and I think he might end his career at 13, but he’s a keeper.
10+ Tom Robertson: Didn’t have a Waratah contract at the start of the season, now he’s in the Wallaby train-on squad. The success story of the season, he steadied the scrum from the bench, went to starter and looked like he had been there forever. I don’t recall a tight head prop coming onto the scene so young and inexperienced and looking so assured. Pushed a former Wallaby tight head to loose head and a marquee import to the bench. With Kepu back next year, the Waratah tight head position will be “no worries, mate”.
6. Reece Robinson: A fullback from the mungoes, Robinson was played on the wing but never quite utilised his speed although he is the fastest player in the team. Doesn’t have a natural kicking game and takes too many wrong options – he’s holding some pretty talented youngsters back from opportunity like Clunies-Ross and Jones. Must improve next year or he will be superceded, probably by Clark.
7. Jim Stewart: Got his first opportunities this year and went OK, but probably will have to come in to 12 to get a start with Folau killing it at 13. With Horwitz not going so well and Horne better placed as the blind side winger, this spot is his to take.
Experienced squad members:
There are only 12 players in this category who will be suiting up next year. From a squad of 30 that turnover is mind-boggling. Next year the squad will be very inexperienced, but the newbies have gone so well this year that everyone expects the Tahs to be top two in the conference behind the Reds.
10. Israel Folau: Had two games this year where I thought he was poor. For someone of his skills that was a shock but against that he was outstanding at 13 and could always be relied upon to bust the defence, no matter who opposed him. I wish Gibson would leave him at 13 on defence and not push him into the backfield. Then when the ball is run back from a kick he can position himself for an off-load and really make use of his broken-field running.
8. Bernard Foley: Was going really well in tandem with Beale, but struggled when he had to do it all on his own. Still had a good year, but needs to continue to work on his field kicking.
10. Michael Hooper: Copped a pizzling from all and sundry early in the season, which I really didn’t see in his performances. His critics want him to play like Richie McCaw and he’s just got a completely different skillset. Later in the season critics warmed to him again after a number of dominant displays. His attitude to referees does need some modification, as a group they just don’t respect him.
7. Rob Horne: Did his job week in, week out without standing out. When Kurtley went down and Horwitz didn’t step up he was brought in to 12 for the last few games. Its not his best position, but he still gave it everything he had.
6. Tolu Latu: Wasn’t playing well early, was suspended and then injured. By the time he was available again Roach had eclipsed him and then TPN returned. Must do much better next year and needs to show his worth in the NRC. May even end up as a loose head prop, he has the necessary body shape and we have three hookers next year plus Hilterbrand on the outskirts.
9. Matt Lucas: Not everyone’s favourite, but I thought he had an outstanding year. When he replaced Phipps he brought energy and zip to the role and in my opinion is better than Frisby, who somehow got a Wallaby jumper this year. His starting game against the Sunwolves was excellent.
2. Taquele Naiyaravoro: Came back from overseas, allowing Guilford to be released early. You can see why he has such potential, particularly from 10m out, but his yellow card in the Hurricanes game was one of the stupidest things seen on a rugby field. Next year has to be better.
7. Nick Phipps: He has some consummate rugby skills – his speed to the ruck, his cover defence, his quick clearance. His passing however is not a strength and often put Foley under pressure. Just needs more work, especially next year when there will be so many inexperienced players around him.
7. Hugh Roach: Came in when TPN and Latu were unavailable and did not look out of place. To succeed at Super Rugby he needs to increase his strength work, he is still too much an openside breakaway in a hooker’s jumper.
9. Paddy Ryan: Started the season disastrously at tight head behind Ta’avao and finished his last game as the loose head hero with two penalty tries to his name after destroying Tu’ungafasi in the scrum. Improved around the park as the season went on; he seems to have found his home.
7. Will Skelton: If someone, anyone, can teach Will Skelton how to use his leg drive like Michael Hooper does then he will be my coaching hero. Skelton in the last four games of the season was much improved, but his early season work was uninspiring. Seems to me that he needs a longer off-season each year to work on his physical level before he comes into the team. If he is going to be off till January because of Wallaby duties then we need for him to have an extended conditioning period and then start off the bench in round three or four.
5. Angus Ta’avao: After the first few rounds I had his rating at -5 and I was screaming for him to be given a canoe and paddle and told to head back to Auckland. By the end of the season he had turned that around and was a solid back-up to Robertson. But with Kepu back he needs to spend the next six months training at loose head to back up Ryan next year.
6. Gibson: Head coach is different from assistant coach and he learnt that on the run. Learnt the hard way about the necessity of set piece training and no doubt numerous other things as well. Knows he had the cattle to win this year and didn’t. Next year if he can’t develop several specialist positions (2, 4, 5 and 12) very quickly, he will find the job much harder.
5. Grey: He is the defensive coach and the defence went backwards, not just with individuals but also with systems. That has to be put right if 2014 is to be repeated.
7. Blades: Started off as a disaster, but pulled it together by the end. Not sure if he coached the lineout, if so take off two points.
5. Malone: Hard to see where he made enough impact.
Where to now?
By my count, only eight of the victorious 2014 squad will be back. Gibson has a huge job in front of him to develop the squad into one that can make the finals next year. He’s got a lot of talent to develop but only six months to do so. Supporters may have to wait till 2018 for another tilt at the finals. One thing is clear: apart from 4 & 5, he does have the raw material for a championship team.