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    Season Pre-view: Waratahs

    Ahh the Waratahs... Is it just me, or have the Tahs become far less annoying as a team in the last year or two? Maybe itís the retirement of Phil Waugh. Maybe it is that they have been supplanted by the Reds as the top dog amongst the Australian franchises. Maybe their annoyingness has just been eclipsed by the Brumbies. Whatever it is, I canít help but feel a bit of excitement for the potential of the Waratahs in 2012.

    Form in 2011
    The Waratahsí season followed itís usually path- an excellent start and an excellent finish with a bit of averageness in between. The Tahs have not lost the first game of the Super Rugby season for 9 years. Last season it was the demolition of the Rebels. This followed an equally dominant display against the Reds. The two games that followed, however, were far from impressive. The Tahs were comfortably beaten by the Crusaders in Nelson and then humiliated by the Cheetahs in Sydney. They did manage to salvage their season and snuck into the finals in 5th place. By this point injuries had consumed the squad and almost a dozen players were unavailable for the 4th v 5th final against the Blues in Auckland. The Blues easily accounted for the Tahs. But what could have been if the injury god (Mordock) had been more favourable?

    Phil Waugh: After mum hit him with the ugly
    stick once again.



    Comings and Goings
    There are some big names that wonít be turning out for the Waratahs in 2012. First and foremost is Phil Waugh, who has retired from rugby after 10 years with the Waratahs. It is hard to know what effect this will have on the team. Some say Phil was the heart and soul of the Tahs but others believe his conservative style held the team back. One thing is for sure- the Tahs donít have an openside of his calibre to replace him with. The other big name is Kurtley Beale. Despite what he says, he has taken the money option down in Melbourne with the Rebels. Beale has established himself as one of the best fullbacks in world rugby over the last season or two and is a brilliant counter-attacker. This is a critical loss for the Waratahs as no other player in the team is quite as unpredictable. Al Baxter has retired along with Phil Waugh. Baxter copped a lot of criticism at test level as a tighthead prop, however he was always solid in Super Rugby. Livewire halfback, Luke Burgess, is another departee. Normally this would be a big loss to any team, but the Tahs have replaced Burgess well. By all reports, Burgess has been doing well in French rugby. Ben Mowen has also moved on. Mowen joins the Brumbies in 2012 and will skipper the side, his third in Super Rugby. The skilled forward is a loss and the manner of his departure was disappointing too.
    Maybe their annoyingness has just been eclipsed by the Brumbies.
    There are a couple of new Tahs in town. The silver lining to the loss of Kurtley Beale is the recruitment of Adam Ashley-Cooper from the Brumbies. AAC is an excellent all-rounder, and while he doesnít hold a torch to Beale in explosiveness, he is about as reliable as they come. Continuing on in the vein of recruiting from the Brumbies is the signing of Rocky Elsom. Rocky failed to achieve much in the nationís capital, with fewer than 80 minutes of rugby last season. Word is that he has burnt a few bridges in Canberra too. A farcical situation arose with his recruitment in that he was signed by the ARU but none of the franchises seemed that keen to sign him. Rocky will miss a fair chunk of the start of the season as he recovers from his latest injury- Tahs fans will hope he returns to the form he showed in 2008/2009 but somehow I think Elsom is a broken warhorse. The Tahs marquee spot has been taken up by none other than Cheetahs try scoring ace Sarel Pretorius. Pretorius is exactly what the Tahs need in the absence of Luke Burgess and he will relish in the quality of the forwards he has in front of him and the backs outside him. The space offered by the forwards and the opposition second guessing offered by Berrick Barnes, Ashley-Cooper and Mitchell make Sarel Pretorius a good early season bet for Super Rugbyís top try scoring in 2012.

    Players to watch out forÖ
    There is going to be an exciting tussle to be the new Phil Waugh of the Waratahs. Phil spent a fair bit of 2011 on the side lines and during that time there were two major players for the 7 jersey. Pat McCutcheon, former Australian 7s captain and commonwealth games silver medal winner, was the first to try it out for size. McCutcheon was considered to be a decent option, but lacking a lot in the ball scavenging department. The other player was Chris Alcock. Alcock was quite the opposite to McCutcheon- scored a fair few ball pilfers, however missed a fair few tackles along the way. Who will get first crack at the starting spot? So who has worked hardest in the off season? Either way the healthy competition should bring out the best in both of them. Instinct says Foley will go with Alcock. A quick google search of the two has Alcock winning the busted up face contest. We all know thatís how Phil would pick it. Actually come to think of it Phil would probably just keep on picking himself.

    The Strengths

    Alcock, Pocock wannabe.

    The cornerstone of the Waratahs over the past 8 or so years has been the quality of their pack. This season it boasts 9 Wallabies (if you count Dave Dennisí game vs the Barbarians in 2011 and overlook the backroom dealing crap that led to Sitaleki Timaniís cap against Samoa). The front row is first class and would rival the Crusaders, and arguably the Cheetahs, as the best in the competition. Many of the players have a tremendous physicality, although it doesnít always come to the fore. The only real hole is the lack of a class player at openside flanker, which is significant given the influence of that position. Otherwise, these guys will be an absolute handful. A pack this good makes the Tahs decent backs look even better.

    The other big strength of the Waratahs is their ability to start the season in top gear rather than building into it as other sides do. The Tahs have won every single one of their season opening games since 2003.Thats a great way to start a season and far better than the Forceís no wins from season openers ever. They also finish seasons quite well, much to the surprise of their detractors. If they can just hold on through the dreaded mid-season slump, they will challenge the Reds for top spot in the Australian conference.

    The Weaknesses

    Benn Robinson has the moves
    on and off the field
    The Tahs are crocked. I donít know exactly why- maybe its recruiting players they shouldnít, maybe itís their conditioning and all that, maybe they just have so much heart (?) that they throw their bodies on the line with reckless disregard for their own health (Tatafu Polota-Nau please stand up). Whatever it is, it seems that every year the Waratahs have an injury crisis. By the time they made the finals last season, almost a dozen players were unavailable. This season is already shaping up to be the same. Lachie Turner is ruled out for the season. Drew Mitchell is in a moon boot. Rocky Elsom will probably miss half the season. Injury may force Dan Vickerman to retire or at least miss a fair few games. Thatís a lot of players to have out before the season even starts. Then when the season does start, donít expect Wycliff Palu, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Berrick Barnes and Rob Horne to last very long. Until the Tahs find a way to manage their injury concerns, this will continue to cripple their seasons and prevent them from winning the Super Rugby Championship.

    The other headache for the Waratahs is predictability. Sarel Pretorius will be a livewire, but as far as the backline is concerned, that is where the x-factor kind of stops. Berrick Barnes is an excellent fly-half, however he is not particularly creative. Tom Carter outside him wonít offer that much either. Hard running is his thing, as is the case with Adam Ashley-Cooper at 15. Drew Mitchell has x-factor but he will be out for around a third of the season. Now creativity and unpredictability isnít that necessary when your forwards have blown the opposition off the park, but against the top teams, inability to pressure the opposition defence will mean the difference between winning and losing.

    The Prediction
    The Tahs have a great squad. They just donít all get on the park at the same time. If 100% fit, I would have them as favourites to win the competition. But that is just so far from the case that being champions is just a bridge too far for 2012. I expect them to win a lot of games and to toil through their injury woes. But it just wonít be enough come finals time. I predict the Waratahs for 5th.

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    If the Tahs lose Tom carter early in the season, they may win the comp. The bloke is the most over rated footballer in Australia

    They will start well, stumble after round 5 and the media will be starting the post mortem with 5 rounds remaining. It's as cyclical and predictable as the earths diurnal rhythm (ie the rising and setting of the sun). Last year was only different in that they asked their fans why they sucked @ss

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rex Messup View Post
    If the Tahs lose Tom carter early in the season, they may win the comp. The bloke is the most over rated footballer in Australia

    They will start well, stumble after round 5 and the media will be starting the post mortem with 5 rounds remaining. It's as cyclical and predictable as the earths diurnal rhythm (ie the rising and setting of the sun). Last year was only different in that they asked their fans why they sucked @ss
    The Tahs mid-season slump is a tradition in rugby dating back some hundred years.

    They asked their fans why they sucked and their fans told them........nswrugby thought that was enough to solve the problem. Some time in the future they might realize their mistake and make some changes as a result. Stranger things have happened

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    Injury to play havoc with this selection, but my first pick from a couple of weeks ago:

    1 Benn Robinson
    2 Tatafu Polota-Nau
    3 Sekope Kepu
    4 Dean Mumm
    5 Dan Vickerman
    6 Rocky Elsom
    7 Pat McCutcheon
    8 Wycliff Palu

    9 Sarel Pretorius
    10 Berrick Barnes
    11 Drew Mitchell
    12 Tom Carter
    13 Rob Horne
    14 Lachie Turner
    15 Adam Ashley-Cooper

    16 Damien Fitzpatrick
    17 Jeremy Tilse
    18 Sitaleki Timani
    19 Dave Dennis
    20 Brendan McKibbin
    21 Brackin Karauria-Henry
    22 Daniel Halangahu

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    Quote Originally Posted by Burgs View Post
    Injury to play havoc with this selection, but my first pick from a couple of weeks ago:

    1 Benn Robinson
    2 Tatafu Polota-Nau
    3 Sekope Kepu
    4 Dean Mumm
    5 Dan Vickerman
    6 Rocky Elsom
    7 Pat McCutcheon
    8 Wycliff Palu

    9 Sarel Pretorius
    10 Berrick Barnes
    11 Drew Mitchell
    12 Tom Carter
    13 Rob Horne
    14 Lachie Turner
    15 Adam Ashley-Cooper

    16 Damien Fitzpatrick
    17 Jeremy Tilse
    18 Sitaleki Timani
    19 Dave Dennis
    20 Brendan McKibbin
    21 Brackin Karauria-Henry
    22 Daniel Halangahu
    Jesus that's a good looking team on paper.

    Even Tom Carter at 12 can't cover up the talent they have on tap.


    Thank god they'll suck like an industrial Hoover by the end of round 5

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