For an hour on Friday, it looked like a return to the bad old days at the Sydney Football Stadium as the New South Wales Waratahs gave up 30 points without reply in a display of ineptitude not seen by home fans since 2012.
Spilled passes and fumbles, inaccurate and often pointless kicking from hand, missed tackles and a malfunctioning scrum made for glum viewing for a crowd who were celebrating a Super Rugby title just 22 months ago.
Even four unanswered tries in 16 minutes to come within one more five-pointer of an astonishing comeback victory over the reigning champion Otago Highlanders could not erase the memory of the woeful first 60 minutes for coach Daryl Gibson.
“We definitely didn’t play well. I’m very firm on that. We cannot at all be satisfied with the fact we came back to 26 points. We got out-played. That’s the fact,” the stone-faced former All Black told reporters after the 30-26 defeat.
“We gave up too much in the first half and while the effort was valiant, I’ll acknowledge that, we got beat. That’s the hard fact. It’s not good.”
Gibson took over at the end of last season from Michael Cheika, who arrived in late 2012 to revive an organisation which had lapsed into dysfunctionality and just experienced its worst Super Rugby season with four wins in 16 matches.
Wallabies scrumhalf Nick Phipps, who returned to Sydney for the 2014 championship season, said the Waratahs were at a “crossroads” after notching one victory in their first three matches.
“We’ve got to make a decision,” he said. “Do we want to be just like a courageous team in defeat or do we want to really knuckle down and get the job done?”
The next chance to get the job done will be on Sunday week in Brisbane against the Queensland Reds, whose decline since their 2011 title has mirrored the rise of the Waratahs.
The Waratahs played a brilliant first half before tailing off in their 30-10 win over the Reds in Sydney in Week 1 and Gibson said they needed to rediscover their consistency.
“We have clearly got a fair way to go in terms of the type of team we want to become and the type of rugby we want to play,” he added.
“There’s some technical deficiencies in us. At different times we can be very good and at other times we can be pretty ordinary. It’s that stuff that’s killing us.”
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