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How the Waratahs plan to bounce back after winless 2021 season

By Jack O'Rourke
(Photo by David Neilson/Getty Images)

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With the official launch of the Super Rugby Pacific season for Australian teams held virtually on Monday, the competition is one step closer to kick-off.

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The latest version of the southern hemisphere’s premier rugby competition is due to begin on the 18th of February featuring 12 teams, but there is still plenty of manoeuvring taking place to ensure that all games go ahead on both sides of the Tasman. 

Rugby Australia held a season launch with Brumbies, Force, Rebels, Reds, Waratahs and newcomers the Fijian Drua.

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The Waratahs took the opportunity to reveal that scrumhalf Jake Gordon has retained the captaincy for the 2022 season as the club prepares to make their mark on the new-look competition after a disappointing winless season last year. 

Gordon and coach Darren Coleman were on hand during the launch and expressed a desire to raise the Waratahs to the same lofty heights as when they were winning a Super Rugby title in 2014.

The Tahs are running with the theme of a reset for 2022, and Gordon believes there is enough talent in the team to make the finals. 

“Reset for me, if I am being completely honest, is about forgetting about last year,” he said.

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“We’ve had two trials to start the year and we’ve put on a pretty good performance in both. The majority of the focus is about forgetting last year and trying to improve this year.”

Since taking over as head coach following his title-winning spell with the LA Giltinis, Coleman has been impressed with the players’ attitudes and their desire to restore some pride in the sky blue jersey.

“One of the things I noticed most was how tight they were, and how positive they were off the back of what must have been a very challenging season for them,” he said.

“Usually, when things aren’t going well for a team, there are a few cancers and blokes are into each [other]. The group is really tight, and I think I have been able to facilitate that and give them a bit of belief. 

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“I am just helping the boys understand that they are good players and we just need a bit of luck and a good run with a consistent crew to get there.”

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It looks to be another challenging year for the competition’s administrators as they navigate border restrictions and the impact of Covid hitting Super Rugby squads.

New Zealand teams have already relocated to Queenstown, while Rugby Australia [RA] is exploring some innovative solutions to maintain the integrity of the competition.

Rugby Australia chief executive Andy Marinos is proposing the creation of a player pool that Aussie sides can draw from should regular squad members be ruled out with illness. 

Coleman stated the preference for the Waratahs would be to rely on the squad he has already assembled for the season, with calls growing to utilise the Shute Shield, New South Wales club rugby’s premier competition, as a source of players. 

“I just want them to give them a chance. If we come in and in the first few rounds the blokes aren’t performing or putting their body on the line, then yes [players may lose their spots],” Coleman said.

“As long as we are playing with passion and we are defending hard and staying in the contest, then I think the New South Wales rugby public will get behind us. 

“The boys in here are all grassroots rugby players themselves, they have all come through those clubs. They’re not rockstars, they want to give back to the game.”

The Waratahs have made some shrewd recruitment moves in the off-season, welcoming back Michael Hooper, Jed Holloway and Ned Hanigan and signing Welsh centre Jamie Roberts. Gordon will be relying on their experience to drive standards in 2022.

“Guys with that level of experience and knowledge, I can’t wait to tap into their brains and see what they’ve got to offer.”

The Waratahs will kick their Super Rugby Pacific campaign off against the Fijian Drua at CommBank Stadium in Sydney next Friday.

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