Why Waratahs’ loss could be Wallabies’ gain

Waratahs players after their semi-final loss.
Waratahs players after their semi-final loss.

NO ONE at Rugby Australia would dare say this, or possibly even think this, but the Waratahs' loss to the Lions in the Super Rugby semis could be just the sort of lucky break the Wallabies need to regain the Bledisloe Cup.

While conventional wisdom dictates that the best way to prepare for big matches is by playing in other big matches, the extra week off can only benefit NSW's fatigued Test players.

The chances of the Waratahs beating the Crusaders in next weekend's grand final in Christchurch were already slim at best because they would have been running on fumes after flying halfway round the world and back again in the space of a week.


But a loss for the Waratahs to the Crusaders would have handed the All Blacks another psychological boost after the Wallabies put a dent in their aura of invincibility by beating them last time they played.

Just making the final would have also delayed the involvement of NSW players in the Wallabies' Bledisloe Cup training camp.

The Waratahs have already been deemed unavailable for next Friday's hastily arranged Wallabies trial at Leichhardt Oval but will join the Wallabies squad a week later. Had the Waratahs made the Super Rugby decider, that would have been put on ice for a further week.

Despite their semi-final loss to the Lions, the Waratahs have shown that there are plenty of positive signs both for NSW and Australia.

Israel Folau will need to be at his best for the Wallabies.
Israel Folau will need to be at his best for the Wallabies.

The Wallabies need the likes of Israel Folau, Kurtley Beale, Bernard Foley and Michael Hooper to be firing all cylinders and the signs at the moment are all good.

The NSW backline has been in great form and while Hooper is still recovering from injury, the Waratahs pack punched above its weight in the playoffs, which included a win over the Highlanders.

"I think the forwards, they showed up every time we asked of them this year and they maybe understrength but still the application was incredible," Foley said.

"We've fought all year with the men we have and I'm incredibly proud with what we have.

"We're utterly disappointed that we didn't make it to next week or give us the chance to win the cup next week but from a squad's point of view, I've been exceptionally proud to represent them and to lead them."

For the Waratahs, 2018 was a major success by any measurement, despite their disappointment at failing to reach the grand final, as reaching the semis was a far cry from last year when they finished a dreary 16th.

Michael Cheika will be glad his NSW Wallabies players have an extra week to freshen up. Picture: Stewart McLean
Michael Cheika will be glad his NSW Wallabies players have an extra week to freshen up. Picture: Stewart McLean

There were some embarrassing lows during the season, most notably when they were spanked 29-0 at home by the Lions then squandered a 29-point lead to lose to the Crusaders, but they are heading in the right direction and making all the right noises that will carry over to the Test team.

"It's been an improvement but there's definitely work to be done. People are still looking for consistency from us, there's been a couple of key moments in the season that where we probably could have grabbed the nettle," NSW Rugby chief executive Andrew Hore said.

"That will come and the players will grow with regard to the choices they make on the pitch.

"The big thing here is that they're very clear on the type of game they want to play and there's a combined belief starting to build, which is fantastic, but we're not the finished article yet."