Redemption Road for the Waratahs

“Nobody likes being booed off their home stadium, and the SFS has been such a wonderful place and the fans have been so good to the Waratahs for so long ,that it was very upsetting for us for that to happen. Our performance was not as good as we should deliver so you do accept the responsibility of performing and we certainly do want to perform for our crowd. We want to turn that around against the Brumbies for the Waratah fans and for ourselves as well.”

Dean Mumm

After a week of recriminations, both in the national media and behind closed doors, as to what exactly went wrong for the Waratahs in their inexplicable loss to the Cheetahs last Saturday, and for the potentially damaging financial ramifications the result may hold, the focus is now on how they go about redeeming themselves. Thanks to the fixture calendar, they have the perfect opportunity to wash away their sins tonight in Canberra against arch-rivals the Brumbies.

The Hume Highway that takes you out of Sydney on the way to the nation’s capital may well be renamed ‘Redemption Road’ for the Waratahs, as they set about rediscovering the form that has deserted them since somewhere around the 25th minute against the Crusaders three weeks ago. After two comprehensive victories over newboys, the Melbourne Rebels, and interstate rivals Queensland, the Tahs led 13-6 halfway through the 1st half in Nelson before they suddenly lost their mojo.

Whether it disappeared up the tunnel with the injured Tatafu Polota-Nau is a matter of conjecture, but the confidence, belief, spirit and attacking thrust of the first two rounds was replaced by hesitancy, indecision and a lack of guile. The Crusaders went through the gears and rolled back the years to run out 33-18 winners and then there was last week…

It is hard even now to describe or even begin to explain just how poor a performance the Tahs put up against a Cheetahs side who tackled themselves to a standstill, stood firm and stood together, sniffed blood and went in for the kill. After a few days to analyse, sit back and take stock of what went wrong, Waratahs vice-captain Dean Mumm still can’t comprehend the paucity of the team’s performance either.

“It was pretty average to be honest. I actually think our defence and our defensive line outs were ok but pretty much anything associated with attack was quite poor for us, including attacking line outs, attacking scrums – pretty much any general play in attack was horrible.

“It was probably one of the more sombre dressing rooms that I’ve ever been in and rightly so, and I think the shock was that we just weren’t able to play the way we wanted to. We’ve identified reasons for it, which we shall keep private, and I think you treat is as an aberration rather than what the team is capable of and then you move on, hopefully to bigger and better things.”

Waratahs v Cheetahs_2011

Waratahs players in disbelief at the final whistle against the Cheetahs

As he sees it, the key now is to brush off the loss, move forward and set about turning the season around, without pretending it didn’t happen.

“It’ll take a little while and you shouldn’t forget performances like that because you don’t want to feel like that again. But once we hit that training field at 4pm on Monday, it was all about this weekend. If you look too deep, you lose focus for this match and the biggest thing for us is to keep our focus on this week because it is a big game, regardless of what’s happened to the Waratahs or the Brumbies in the past few weeks.”

A timely reminder for us not to forget that all isn’t exactly well in Brumby land either. They’ve lost their last three matches, shipped 52pts in their last hit out against the Crusaders, and are already contemplating their third coach of the season and it’s only Round Six. For them too, a win over their rivals will help to placate the naysayers and as Mumm knows only too well, history shows that a win at Canberra Stadium has been a rare event for New South Wales down the years.

“They are big games on the Australian calendar and rightly so,” says Mumm. “The Brumbies certainly love to beat us and we certainly love to beat them, and it’s been a while since we’ve won down in Canberra. So I think you can look at it across several fronts and take into context the current situation. But without that context, there’s still plenty of motivation for a win down there.

“Getting an away win is pretty much the key to going well in this competition and obviously, we didn’t get one at the Crusaders but we got one at the Rebels and it would be nice to get another one. Traditionally, teams go better at home in this competition so to get those away wins gets you a long way down the road to being in the semi-finals.”

Mumm predicts a ‘battle royale’ at scrum time but is also wary of the attacking threat posed by one of the most damaging backlines in the competition when it clicks.

“Their front row scrummaged extremely well against the Crusaders and Dan Palmer’s been going very, very well at tighthead,” observes Mumm. “It’s unlucky for them that they’ll be without Stephen Moore and Mitchell Chapman, who have both been playing very well. But I think their front row will still be extremely strong, so the scrum match up will be a key.

“They’ve also shown their ability to play and score tries as they did against the Reds, so I think we’ll have our hands full. They’ve got a wealth of talent out there and if they get the ball out wide, they’ll basically make us work very hard in defence. They have a number of threats from the set-piece but you’ve got Giteau, Ashley-Cooper and some pretty lightning wingers in there as well, so they’ve got threats all over the park.”

With so much history between them and so much on the line for both teams, Mumm also predicts an attritional game, and possibly not one for the neutrals.

“While everyone would love an open game, I’m sure the majority of Waratahs fans would want that win before a spectacle and certainly, that’s the way that I want it. The style that we want to play is generally attacking, and if we can play on our terms then hopefully you will see a few tries because I think that’s what we’re capable of. But if we need to grind it out then so be it. Getting back on that scoreboard and getting that win is more important this week than being entertaining.”

First published by Ruggamatrix on March 11th, 2011


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