Super Rugby
No reinvention, just a realignment for Daryl Gibson's Waratahs wheel
Sam Bruce
January 14, 2016
Waratahs looking for Foley back-up

The 2016 rugby season represents a cataclysmic shift in the game following the international retirement of two Test greats, a first foreign coach for fallen powerhouse England, and a further expansion of Super Rugby.

While the game stops for nobody, the complete retirement of Richie McCaw and Test departure of Dan Carter, in particular, will take some adjustment once the southern season kicks off.

For Chiefs flanker Sam Cane, the All Blacks' three-Test series will see him step into McCaw's gigantic shoes while the replacement for Carter in the No.10 jersey will be a keenly contested race in three.

The expectation will be high on both fronts.

Rugby may not be at the top of the sporting tree in Australia, as it is in New Zealand, but the changing of the guard in Sydney has already begun to garner attention.

The messiah, Michael Cheika, has made a permanent move to ARU HQ, leaving former All Blacks centre Daryl Gibson with some reasonably sized shoes to fill at the Waratahs.

Daryl Gibson has been out on the training paddock with his troops during the pre-season © Getty Images

"Not really, I think it's a real advantage," Gibson said when asked whether he was feeling the pressure of replacing Cheika.

"You know the great thing I have is that I've been here for three years and I'm very well acquainted with the way we do things. There's been an excellent blueprint that has been laid down and those principles are based on hard work; they have not changed.

"I think, if anything, we've really tried to train even harder; a number of the guys will tell you the training loads are through the roof, and that's a good thing because, for me, that forms our attitude and forms our team and certainly I'm trying hard to make sure that remains here."

Cheika failed last year to match his title-winning heroics of 2014, but a run to the semi-finals was an admirable return for a coach balancing two jobs.

A loss to the Highlanders at home brought down the curtain on Cheika's Waratahs era but, much as that heavy 35-17 defeat at home was a tough pill for fans to swallow, the glow of the previous year's title and the transformation from perennial "powder puffs" to hardened contenders ensured the outgoing coach's halo remained intact.

Admirable as the Waratahs efforts were in 2014, they reaffirmed the mantra that, no matter the sport, champion teams must evolve; Cheika's attacking ethos still had its moments but opposition teams had found ways to limit its effectiveness. And none did so better than the Highlanders, who isolated the Waratahs' lack of a kicking game in that semi-final triumph and slowed their ball via a dogged breakdown focus.

"It's very much, if we're standing still and delivering what we did last year, we'll get passed," Gibson said.

"It's very much trying to evolve our game; we've had a certain game style here for three years and certainly that's not going to change - we're a ball-in-hand team, an attacking team.

"What we've got to do is try and evolve that and get better because I think last year we got found out a bit, particularly in the semi-final, around our game style and teams knowing what we're up to.

"So we're trying to tweak a few things up and show that we're a little bit different."

A little bit different - that's all Gibson can really afford to be.

A complete overhaul of the Waratahs' attacking game would risk alienating fans that returned under Cheika's watch - people who are desperate for entertainment, not just the W.

It makes Gibson's task just that little bit tougher, but veteran lock Dean Mumm believes the Kiwi is up for the challenge even if there are widespread concerns that the coach is "too close to the players".

Gibson is yet to decide where he will play Kurtley Beale this season © Perpetual LOYAL / Twitter

It all comes down to culture.

"I think there's a slightly different approach, they're different characters so you get a different output from that," Mumm said of the transition from Cheika to Gibson.

"Cheik has sort of an element of intensity, which is great, and Daryl's sort of a little bit more laid back in his approach.

"But both of them have really strong cultural elements and cultural focuses on the team and apart from the stuff we're doing on-field that's what we're working off the field on - sort of building that strength of character and identity which Cheik was very good at and we're working hard to do that again."

Gibson has around six weeks to whip his squad into shape after welcoming back the franchise's 12-strong Wallabies contingent at the start of January.

Fly-half Bernard Foley won't return from a Japanese stint for a few weeks yet while star full-back Israel Folau is continuing his rehabilitation from ankle surgery.

Whether the two-time reigning John Eales Medal winner makes a move to outside centre as suggested remains to be seen, while there are also positional questions to be answered in regards to Kurtley Beale, Rob Horne and off-season recruits Zac Guildford and Reece Robinson.

Whatever transpires it won't be a reinvention of the Waratahs wheel, just a slight alignment to get things spinning Gibson's way.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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