Oh what has become of the Waratahs? This isn't the NSW side that I have read thrashed New Zealand 17-0 in Christchurch in 1921. A match in a string of 1920s matches that the Waratahs played against New Zealand and the New Zealand Maoris, and other Test playing nations, during a period when the Queensland Rugby Union had ceased to exist temporarily (1919-1929). This isn't the Waratah side that held the All Blacks themselves scoreless, a match that we assign Test status to, whilst NZ does not. The side that managed to acquit themselves respectably for the ten years they were forced to step a level above the state side they have been for the rest of their history. To be fair, there apparently tended to be a small number of Queensland players in the Waratahs at the time due to there being no QRU operating for them to play in. This means I am cheating a bit calling them purely NSW.
NSW have a great history. If you ask an Australian statistician, they have played Test matches for Australia. If you ask one from overseas, they haven't. Doesn't matter to me whether they were Tests or not. They have beaten New Zealand and the New Zealand Maoris as I said. Other victims are Ireland, Wales, and France on each of their own soils and probably more international teams I don't know about or remember, here in Sydney. Come see me when you have done all that you hotshot Brumbies. Then you will deserve support. Their playing style during this period was to become the basis of the Wallaby style and influence the Wallaby game for years to come.
Look at them now. They played Queensland last weekend. The Queensland/NSW local derby is supposed to mean something to the players concerned. In fact it used to mean just about everything. In a nation with only two true provincial sides, it was these clashes that decided the make-up of the Wallabies. I say two, because the Brumbies are young upstarts compared to these two, and it wasn't that long ago that they didn't exist at all. It is also traditionally a big match-up because of the entire local derby concept. NSW and Qld have been the fiercest of rivals since I was born and now that I've been checking the history books, I find this is actually true from when my grandfather was born. Unfortunately, Queensland are generally more serious about it than NSW. For the Centenary Test against England, where the Wallabies wore the sky blue as they did in their first ever Test, before they were actually Wallabies, Dan Crowley apparently looked a little sick while doing it.
Week in and week out, I find myself hoping that Queensland beats their opposition from New Zealand and South Africa. They are Australian after all, much as we hate to admit it. Yet if there was one game I really wanted New South Wales to win this year, I would have chosen that to be their clash against the Reds. That's what the local derby is supposed to mean. Doubtless you all know what I'm talking about. Everyone has a local derby and it is always the most hotly contested game of the year.
Queensland had the right attitude in the match. They haven't played well this year. They hadn't won as many games as the Waratahs going into the match. Their players were probably a bit dejected by the fact that their team was lurking around the bottom of the table. You would think this could have given the Waratahs all the psychological advantage they were going to need.
Yet all the Reds players needed was to see that their opposition was wearing sky blue with a little red flower stitched onto the left breast of their jerseys. Suddenly, there was no option but to play like they were possessed by demons (or would that be angels, since rugby at its highest level is played in heaven?). Most of the breakdowns featured more red than blue, flying streaks of the stuff crashing across the ball with reckless disregard for personal safety, cleaning out the one or two Waratahs who had the misfortune to be anywhere near the ball they craved so much more desperately than their opposition. Maybe the NSW players should have disguised themselves by wearing that new piece of absolute filth they have for an away jersey this year. Just lucky they don't release the names of the people who design things like that, said person in this case would have to move to Iceland. The upside of it would have been that Queensland would never have picked them for NSW with all the green on that jersey...
Queensland understand what it means to play for one's state, regardless of whether your skills are up to scratch or not. To chase the man who has broken the line down regardless of whether Matt Dowling is meant to be faster than you or not, because your state jersey gets you that extra yard of pace. To make it to the lineout first, regardless of whether it technically makes a difference to the game or not, simply because you are keen as mustard to get another crack at them. Whilst Queenslanders were queuing up to get to the lineouts, the NSW forwards were content to casually walk up and get ready to get handed the ball.
I make it sound like it is unusual for NSW to lack passion in these state clashes. It is a little unusual, but they are found lacking in that department a lot more frequently than Queensland. They were found severely lacking in this particular encounter. And it isn't only rugby, watch a game of State of Origin rugby league one year. If the teams are true to usual form, NSW should be technically better, and Queensland more passionate.
Not that Queensland were that great in the game. I thought they were playing reasonably well but not brilliantly. It was the intensity that impressed me. Who knows, maybe they only looked intense because the NSWelshmen, displaying all the intensity of a limp fish, were making them look good. Nearly the only NSWelshman I really want to exclude from all this criticism is Jason Little. He really looked as though he wanted to single-handedly win the game for the Waratahs, but alas, you need fifteen men for a rugby team. Guess what else. He's actually a Queenslander! I read later how disappointed he was about the result and that he had been looking forward to going back to Ballymore to face the Reds at home for two years, and that the loss was the most disappointing moment since the 95 World Cup. More so than any Test loss in between. Yes indeed, Jason Little understands how things should be. Especially when he said his disappointment was not because they lost so much as because they didn't even give it a good go. I see what he means.
The NSWelshmen were in a dream state until the last ten minutes or so. It was at this time that they started to string phases together and to try to match the Queensland effort in its intensity. I think their thoughts ranged from 'We need a try to salvage our enormous contracts' all the way up the State Loyalty Scale to 'We need a try to salvage some small amount of pride'. If Queensland were in the same position, you can bet they would still be trying to come up with a win, even now, the best part of a week later. NSW got their try. I could argue that it was deserved, due to their looking threatening at the end. I won't. They deserved to remain tryless. Queensland also looked threatening at the same time and for a brief span of minutes, things were as they should be.
NSW meet up with The Chiefs this weekend. I'll be watching it. I'll be hoping for a win and/or some encouraging signs. I have to. I'm what they call a supporter. It doesn't matter one whit when game time comes around how they are performing. I think NSW counts on that sort of sentiment, otherwise they wouldn't get 20-30 thousand people turning up to home games. Mid-week is a different thing. That is the time for criticism.
Please don't get the idea I think I could do any better. I know that I'm not skilled enough, fit enough or committed enough, to represent my state on the paddock. I wish I were. These guys are supposed to be, but somehow they aren't either. It is a big ask, but one they have stepped up to try to answer.
I am moaning about my team now, but I hope you all realise that come next home game, I'll be there, in a blue jersey, cheering them on. Maybe the Waratahs should only get paid when they win. Watch them dazzle us with their prowess then...
But it's never actually that clear-cut, is it? Do I support the Waratahs in their home game against the Brumbies? Or secretly hope the Brumbies win, because it will provide more of a chance for an Australian team to get a good finals berth? I suspect Australian loyalty will easily win out. I have lost nearly all of the optimism I had for a NSW finals berth for this year. Besides, it is all but academic. The ACT will win the game.
Should the Waratahs manage to turn their season around, and win all of the big games they have yet to play against the teams currently hogging the top of the ladder, it will not be because they were good all along. They will have found their feet. They are seventh now I think, have lost the highest number of games of any team, and have a bye to come. I cannot say I would like being in that position. Seventh, when all that is taken into account, is an unrealistic image of their actual status in the comp. And the fact remains that they didn't have enough in them to match it with the Reds. If a Waratah side is not interested in trying to beat the Reds, then it follows they will probably sleep right through any other game. (Please prove me wrong guys!)
I'm going to go to sleep now, and console myself with dreams of World Cups and things (I was going to say dreams of Bill, but then you could construe that in a most nasty and embarrassing way). And with the fact that, for some reason, Australia's Super 12 form tends to have little bearing on the form of the Wallabies. This is usually to the great annoyance of our cousins from Kiwiland, who hog their damned Super 12 trophy with monotonous consistency and reasonably expect this should mean the All Blacks should invariably follow suit come Tri-Nations and World Cup time. Maybe the Wallabies do well because MacQueen understands what 'it' is all about and forces his players to do so as well. One thing is certain.
In Rod We Trust.
I've changed my mind about selling my loyalties to the highest bidder too. You couldn't afford my conversion fee anyway. I wouldn't know how one supports a good Super 12 team anyway.
GO THE WARATAHS!! There are plenty of years left in this comp for us to work it out.