The NSW Waratahs were the best Australian team in Super Rugby in 2018, as well as the best attacking team, and will loot to continue this in 2019. The backline this year is, if anything, stronger than last season, and the team has plenty of points in them. The weakness, as it was in 2018, is the forward pack, which is notably light on front line Wallabies – particularly in the tight 5.
The Waratahs have added experienced centres and backline utility players Adam Ashley-Cooper and Karmichael Hunt to their squad, which will help them on the depth front and shore up their (at times shaky) midfield defence. On the other hand they have lost experienced prop Paddy Ryan, utility back Bryce Hegarty and barnstorming winger Taqele Naiyaravoro.
NSW’s front row problems are further exacerbated by injuries to Tom Robertson, Harry Johnson-Holmes and Shambeckler Vui, which means that Rory O’Conner and Chris Talakai are both likely to make their Super Rugby debuts as reserve props tomorrow night. While the more experienced players will trickle back as the season goes on, it will be a baptism of fire for the young guns.
The depth in the backline, and presence of a number of utility players, will help the Waratahs to cover for their stars when they are rested. The policy of resting core Wallabies in some games of the Super season will hit the Tahs more than any other club, with Bernard Foley, Kurtley Beale, Israel Folau, Michael Hooper, Sekope Kepu and Jack Dempsey all likely to be considered core Wallabies who will be forced to miss at least 2 regular season games.
Apart from Kepu all of these players are in positions where the New South Welshmen have some depth, so rotating them through the squad should not cause too many weaknesses on a week to week basis – although it might make it difficult to develop combinations with Foley, Beale and Folau – the three key backs – set to miss almost half the season between them!
The Waratah’s season kicks off tomorrow night at Brookvale Oval against the Hurricanes, in front of what is likely to be a sell out crowd.