If the Waratahs thought their coaches would ease them back into Super Rugby training after the Christmas break they were sadly mistaken. There was no happy new year because they got hammered`in their first training session of 2013.
That included those Wallabies who came back to training a week before they were due. Benn Robinson, Dave Dennis, Berrick Barnes, Drew Mitchell, Kane Douglas, Sitaleki Timani, Paddy Ryan and the big signing, Michael Hooper, all got some hill-training work at Centennial Park as a reward for showing up early.
What they did
Assistant Coach Alan Gaffney had all the players going through the same set of exercises on passing with their bodies square and doing everything at pace. He was hard to please; no doubt unhappy about the Tahs passing and catching last year. At one point he had a current Wallaby player sent to the corner to think about what he had to do. The player was better when he returned.
This was the tone of the coaches in the first session of the year. Players were asked to choose if they wanted to concentrate on what they were doing, or to feed the ducks at Centennial Park.
The no bullshit Cheika was in their faces all the time and did not bother using polite language.
Cheika had them working on deception before they got the ball and running challenging lines of attack. They all had to help to create gaps because anybody could just pass the ball to the next fellow .
Bob Dwyer, a Randwick mate of Gaffney and Cheika, is doing in tough in hospital at the moment, but would have been pleased had he been able to be at training to see those things being practised. He would have enjoyed watching the slick hands drill also, and would have given Bernard Foley or Israel Folau the Mark Ella award had there been one.
Later, when the Wallabies were enjoying a few relaxing hill runs, the others were having a one on one contact contest. AJ Gilbert won the final against another invited player, David Hickey. AJ has been impressive since training started at the end of last year.
Rucking good fun
Then they had a series of exhausting rucking drills and Cheika told them not to worry if they didn’t get it right that day because they would be doing it for the rest of the month.
He said there was one chance at every breakdown to win the collision contest and they had to get it right because that was what the Kiwis would be doing every day.
Who will be the captain?
Coaches prefer their captains to be forwards, other things being equal, but although the Waratahs have experienced players up front there is not one candidate who stands out. Natural leaders like Pat McCutcheon and Damien Fitzpatrick are not assured of a starting spot and are unlikely to be fit enough to start playing in the first month of the competition anyway.
Benn Robinson, the affable 2012 stand-in captain, is probably the front-runner but other possibilities are Dave Dennis, who may be the lineout general, and Tatafu Polota-Nau.
The best on-field skipper though, could be a back – Berrick Barnes. He is not shy about bossing folks.
Cheika was no help in reading the captaincy tea leaves. He was chuffed that Robinson chose to front up a week early, and that would be well regarded, but he wanted to have a look at everybody.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the skipper wasn’t announced until the last trial match, against the Crusaders.