STRUCTURAL tweaks and confidence gained from the rear view mirror.
Those two factors, according to Waratahs assistant coach Nathan Grey, will be keys to the Waratahs resolving defensive problems that have plagued them in the first half of the season and, unless fixed, will kill NSW’s season stone dead.
Grey says a mountain of missed tackles and points conceded by the Tahs this season are “frustrating” and “disappointing” but two words capture the stark reality: worst ever.
After seven games, the Waratahs are currently tracking to record their worst ever season defensively since Super Rugby began in 1996.
Having leaked six tries or more three times this year, the Tahs are averaging 33.9 points conceded per game and 4.4 tries per game, which is their most in the professional era.
The next worst figures for NSW came in 2003, when they averaged 31.3 points and 3.6 tries across 11 games.
Unsurprisingly given those numbers, the Tahs’ malfunctioning defence spits out further ugly stats: they’re missing 25.9 tackles per game, which is the most since 2007.
The Waratahs have fallen from a consistent top five defensive side to a bottom five team in 2017, and though they’re not the worst, they are ranked equal last with the Reds for worst effective tackle rate, down at a lowly 71%.
“It is something that is frustrating and disappointing, from my perspective,” Grey, the NSW defence coach, said.
“But it is also something that is a great challenge, to ensure that the guys are confident in the way we are defending and the way they defend together. That is something that has been lacking.
“Defence is a team thing. Those one-on-one misses are things you need to own and whatnot, but your role in looking out for one another and working hard, they’re things we haven’t been consistently delivering this year.”
There has been talk the Waratahs players have struggled to master a change to up-and-in but Grey said there had no been no major surgery to the NSW defensive system from last year.
“There have been subtle changes but nothing dramatically that is going to cause guys to be confused or to not buy into it,” Grey said.
“That’s why it gets frustrating from our perspective because when they’re training the guys are doing well defensively and it’s quite strong.
“But in game, whether it’s a little bit of lack of confidence and a lack of belief and a little bit of fear of failure, that creeps into the guys’ minds.
“And they don’t need to have that because all these guys are very competent defenders and have done a very good job in the past.”
The Tahs hope the past can hold the key to a more miserly future this season. Lost in the praise for the Waratahs’ attack in the 2014 title-winning season was the fact Michael Cheika’s side simultaneously had the best defence in the competition too. Under Grey, they averaged 17 points per game — half the amount the 2017 team is conceding.
It’s an eye-popping figure but many of the same faces are still on deck for NSW and it is hoped confidence can be taken from having been — up until last year — consistently one of the best defences in the comp.
“It is one of those things that you can’t quite put your finger on but we feel after the bye, we have reset, we have refocused and the guys are very clear around what we want to do,” Grey said.
The Waratahs meet the Kings on Friday night at Allianz Stadium, and though it should be a confidence boosting win for NSW, Grey said their try-scoring potency makes the Africans a dangerous prospect. The Kings have scored 11 tries in their last two games.
Originally published as Tahs must tackle doubts: Grey
SOURCE: newsnow sport