Waratahs head for the tackle bags
By Scrum's Keiran Roberts
April 11, 2000
Defensive coach John Muggleton has gone to work shoring up New South Wales' outside backs for the anticipated attacking blitzkrieg from the free-scoring ACT Brumbies in Sydney on Saturday.
Muggleton is contracted by the Australian Rugby Union to work on the defensive technique and patterns of its teams and he has his work cut this week drumming into the Waratahs what's required to nullify the most potent attacking force in Super 12.
After six matches, the Brumbies have totted up 221 points and conceded just 77. Not only is their attack outstanding, but their try-line hasn't been crossed in the last two games against the Cats and the Highlanders and they're yielding just over 12 points a game.
Defence is firmly on the mind of Waratahs coach Ian Kennedy, who can breathe a little easier this week after his team broke a run of three defeats by pipping the Waikato Chiefs 37-30 in Hamilton Sunday. That kept the erratic Waratahs in semi-final contention in sixth place, but this weekend is an acid test against Australia's leading provincial rugby team.
Kennedy signalled his intention to stitch up any defensive frailty by dropping winger Matt Dowling from the team and summoning youngsters Dominic Byrne and Tui Junior Talaia into a 26-man squad. Dowling may have been the leading try-scorer and points-scorer (56) last year, but his defensive shortcomings have been obvious in recent weeks.
Kennedy said Dowling had to work on his defence and labelled one of his incumbent wingers, Marc Stcherbina a "band aid solution".
"We had a few gaps out wide last Sunday and they (the Brumbies) are a team that has been scoring from out wide, so we need to improve our defence out there," Kennedy said.
Dowling, who was relegated to the bench for the past two games, led NSW with six tries in last season's tournament, but has struggled defensively in the early rounds of this year's competition. He was embarrassingly bumped off by Auckland Blues' lock Troy Flavell in one game and found himself outpaced by Queensland's veteran Wallaby centre Tim Horan in another.
"We want him (Dowling) to go back to play some club football and he's got to work on his defence and we will be monitoring him," Kennedy said. "He is still a very good try scorer, but he needs to go back and start making a few tackles and getting a bit of confidence and then hopefully we will bring him back."
Nineteen-year-old Talaia was contracted to the Waratahs this year after representing Australia at schoolboy, Under 19 and Under 21 level. He is recovering from a strained hamstring he suffered playing for NSW against Queensland in an Under 21 game last month.
Byrne, 22, who represented Australia at Schoolboy and Under 21 level, has been drafted in from outside the contracted NSW squad.
"We are just bringing some young blokes in. Tui is contracted to us and Dom is outside the squad and if Tui is no good, then Dom could enter calculations," Kennedy said.
While Wallaby speedster Scott Staniforth appears secure on one wing, Kennedy admitted utility back Stcherbina, who started the last two games in place of Dowling, was a stopgap solution.
"We don't see Marc as being a permanent winger, he really doesn't have the pace for the wing," Kennedy said. "We have got to decide how long do we keep the band-aid solution operative or do we make a permanent change."
Kennedy said Wallaby prop Richard Harry was likely to return this week after missing the past four matches with a calf strain. However, Kennedy felt another prop Cameron Blades (ankle) was still in doubt, but said centre Nathan Grey (elbow) and forward Daniel Manu (Achilles tendon) would be fit.
NSW squad: Matthew Burke, Scott Staniforth, Tui Junior Talaia, Dominic Byrne, Marc Stcherbina, Jason Little, Nathan Grey, Manuel Edmonds, Christian Warner, Sam Payne, Chris Whitaker, Tiaan Strauss, David Lyons, Michael Brial, Phil Waugh, Stu Pinkerton, Daniel Manu, Tom Bowman, John Welborn, Jason Reilly, Rod Moore, Al Baxter, Cameron Blades, Richard Harry, Mark Crick, Brendan Cannon.