Sometimes wins gloss over obvious failings, and this applies to the Waratahs who have won five from seven. They are about to make a mistake handing the halfback jersey back to Nick Phipps, a longtime mainstay of the Waratahs who returned to the bench last weekend.
It’s time for the Waratahs to hand over the halves to the next generation and move on from Phipps and flyhalf Bernard Foley.
Jake Gordon has outplayed Phipps in every facet of the game while Phipps has been dealing with injury, while Foley is a proven liability both at the Wallabies and Waratahs.
The notion that Foley is a ‘safe’ player is conventional wisdom that defies reality. He has the most turnovers of any number 10 in Super Rugby. He is Damian McKenzie without the explosive attacking upside.
It may be surprising to learn that Foley had only three less handling errors than Quade Cooper last year. He was the third worst turnover machine, one below Quade. If Cooper ‘struggled’ last year as Brad Thorn asserts, then what to make of Foley who was just as unreliable?
At 28-years-old, the inevitable decline in physical traits will set in. He doesn’t have stability in the rest of his game to warrant selection on reputation. Older 10’s that become less effective in the running game are able to transform into reliable distributors with excellent game management. Foley still makes basic unforced errors you would expect from a club player or schoolboy.
The Waratahs will find out the fate of their season with a four-game stretch during May in which they play every New Zealand team except the Hurricanes. If they come out of that with their season in tatters, it is the perfect time to start a new era. Playing to win the Australian conference is like playing for a participation trophy. If they cannot match the firepower of the New Zealand sides it’s time to make changes and figure out how to.
Ex-Queensland Reds squad member and Australian under-20’s flyhalf Mack Mason is waiting in the wings, who they liked enough to sign two seasons ago away from the Reds. He is 22-years-old and is not going to sit around forever.
Mason’s passing game is a real asset. With him, they could diversify away from a system where Beale shoulders the first receiver load for Foley. A secondary playmaker will give the Waratahs attack two legitimate options to play around. Beale’s running game could really open up with a flyhalf that could create space for him, which doesn’t get much time to flourish currently.
Jake Gordon has already proven he is one of the top two halfbacks in the country, if not for Will Genia he would be number one. At 24-years-old he is a future Wallaby with a running game unrivaled by Phipps. Like every great halfback, his support lines are great and his pass looks better than the incumbent.
Heading back to a Foley-Phipps combination is not going to take the Waratahs where they want to go.
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