What a year 2014 was.
The Waratahs played exciting, attacking and fundamentally sound rugby and it won them a Super Rugby Championship. Michael Cheika and his men did what no other Waratahs had done before and in the process they won the adoration of a state that had previously lost faith in the capability of Rugby Union to entertain them.
But clubs who focus on the past get nowhere.
As great as the 2014 Waratahs were, it's now just history and they have an even bigger task ahead of them trying to defend their title. No longer are the Tahs the talent-filled underachievers, they're the reigning champions and that means every game they play, a target will be on their back.
Now this article is going to be a big one, it's been a while since we've had Yeetahs up and posting regularly due to the offseason, but we're ready to make up for lost time. So let's dive into what is going to make or break the 2015 season. We're going to break it up into different sections to make it a bit easier to follow.
A lot of people think that Cheika could be the biggest question mark heading into the season. He is undeniably the reason that the Waratahs won their first title. But taking on the national coaching job as well as coaching the Waratahs this year is unchartered territory. I have no doubt that he's up to the job, but the issues will come with the media. As soon as either the Wallabies or Waratahs have poor results, Cheika's ability to multitask will be questioned. This is inevitable and he needs to prepare both squads for this. Too often the Australian sports media has run someone out of a job and Cheika needs to be wary, especially with his rocky past with SANZAR and certain media outlets.
The Waratahs are lucky in the sense that they didn't lose a huge amount of players after last season. The two key departures were Kane Douglas and Alofa Alofa. Douglas is a massive loss and in my opinion was the Tahs most underrated player of last season and whilst Alofa had a great year, he's definitely replaceable, we will miss all the bread puns he made possible dough.
Fortunately for the Tahs, they kept their spine. With Nick Phipps, Bernard Foley, Kurtley Beale, Adam Ashely-Cooper and Israel Folau still on the books, the backline is still set up to be a dominating force in 2015. Add in Michael Hooper, Wycliff Palu, Jacques Potgeiter and the returning Dave Dennis and the forward pack looks solid. Continuity is how you build dynasties and keeping all these players is a step in the right direction.
Look for gigantic winger Taqele Naiyaravoro to take Alofa Alofa's spot in the starting line up and quite frankly he's in a position to be the highest scoring winger in the competition. Playing outside Israel Folau will give him a lot of opportunities to bowl over defenders on his way to the try line.
Also expect Ben Volavola to make more appearances this year. He's the best utility back who doesn't have a starting spot and his ability to play in the halves or the back three, coupled with a strong kicking game, will most likely mean he will be called upon more this year.
The Waratahs schedule isn't terrible this year. As a part of the Australian conference they obviously play each local team twice once at home and once away, the rest of their matchups look like this:
Highlanders (A) Blues (H) Stormers (H) Hurricanes (A) Sharks (H) Crusaders (H) Lions (A) Cheetahs (A)
Playing the Highlanders away will be a very difficult game and the Hurricanes in New Zealand won't be easy either. Privately the Tahs must be very happy with the fact that they play the Lions and Cheetahs in South Africa as well.
In regards to the home games, the Blues, Stormers, Sharks and Crusaders are all tough matchups and having a home field advantage against all of them is going to be incredibly helpful. If the fixtures were flipped, I would have very little confidence about winning most of them.
This draw also means that the Tahs don't have to play the Bulls or Chiefs in the regular season, which is a pretty good result if you're a Waratahs fan. Those two always put out competitive squads.
The World Cup
As it is a World Cup year, there will be no three week international break in June and as a result the competition will run from February until the final on July 4. This is a good and bad thing.
On the positive side, there is no chance that players can be injured representing the Wallabies, but on the other hand, it means the players who aren't on international duty won't have a chance to rest or heal during the break. In reality though every team is in the same boat, so it won't make a huge difference.
So What Do We Think?
The Waratahs are in a great position to defend their Super Rugby title, but like last year it's imperative that they get home ground advantage going into the finals, if they make them at all. They have the depth and the firepower to really be staking a claim for a top 2 finish in the regular season. Obviously a key injury or two can derail this, but we can only hope that isn't the case.
How do you think the Tahs will go in 2015? Let us know in the comments.