‘Four per cent’: Waratahs written off against Brumbies as Test spots go on the line


Four per cent. It is that percentage that Darren Coleman is clinging on to as his Waratahs prepare to drive down the Hume Highway to take on the Brumbies in Canberra in a bid to get their season back on track.

Only six weeks ago, Coleman had another four on his mind: top four ambitions, but those aspirations are dead in the water after coming away with just one win from their opening five matches.

Now, they’ve been written off by the punters, told they should have been smashed against the Chiefs by Wallabies coach Eddie Jones and had it put to them that their rivalry with the Brumbies is “dead”.

“I read a prediction,” Coleman told reporters on Friday, “I think it was 96 per cent for the Brumbies and four per cent for us. I don’t mind that.

“I like that aspect. We understand the enormity of the challenge, but it’s mainly been about us getting our system and execution right.”

Waratahs coach Darren Coleman says he’s embracing the underdog status against the Brumbies. Photo: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

Earlier in the week, Brumbies chairman Matt Nobbs set the cat amongst the pigeons by stating that the once-great local derby had lost its lure.

“It used to be a great rivalry,” he said, having witnessed the Brumbies win every encounter since 2018 and 13 of the past 14 matches.

Asked whether Nobbs’ comments had added to the motivation of going down and doing a job on their fancied rivals, Coleman played a relatively straight back. Well, at least it was delivered with a dead-panned face.

“I did hear that,” Coleman said.

“It’s not the first time a chairman has been out of touch with his players. I think his head coach and two players didn’t share those thoughts. It doesn’t matter. The natural rivalry motivates us.”

Stephen Larkham will welcome back Allan Alaalatoa to the starting side against the Waratahs. Photo: Jenny Evans/Getty Images

Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham knows the importance of some pre-game niggle, but his task will have undoubtedly been made more difficult by his chairman’s comments.

Nonetheless, if there is one person who understands the rivalry it is Larkham.

“I don’t know if it’s evolved, it’s still there. It’s part of the history of the club,” he said.

“We had a lot of players that had come down from Sydney, from the Randwick area, and bolstered up our team in the early days when we didn’t have enough local talent and they brought with them a general hatred for the establishment up there and that sort of carried over.

“Do we still have the hatred for that? It’s probably a little bit different because we don’t have the amount of players that we had in the past, but certainly because they’re so close we still have that rivalry.

“We play them twice every year and we got one-up in the first round, but we know it’s going be a very physical encounter at the start of this game.”

The Brumbies are quite rightly the hot favourites, having rested their Test stars during their lone loss of the year against the Crusaders in Christchurch.

The Waratahs, too, welcome back to key players, with Lalakai Foketi and Max Jorgensen returning to add some class to the backline.

For Coleman’s side, plenty is on the line.

A generous finish to the regular season should see them finish with a wet sail, but momentum and Wallabies spots in a World Cup year can also be won and lost on Saturday night.

The Waratahs are already expecting to see a number of their stars dropped from the national reckoning, with Jones giving the franchise some home truths on his weekly podcast Eddie.

“I don’t think I’ve seen the Chiefs play as poorly as that for a long time,” Jones said.

“They were way off their game but were still good enough to beat a Waratahs side which is still trying to find itself. It’s been a tough start for them. When you have those starts where the expectation is high at the start of the season, you’ve had a good pre-season … it’s hard to emotionally recover.

“Sometimes it takes one different message to change the team and that’s what Darren Coleman is looking for now. They would have been disappointed with that performance. They’re not far away. They’ve got to have a plan to take away the Brumbies’ strength.”

Players scuffle during the round one Super Rugby Pacific match between Waratahs and Brumbies at Allianz Stadium, on February 24, 2023, in Sydney. Photo: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

Coleman, too, believes form should be rewarded and says on the evidence of their season alone, they’re not the ones holding the cards.

“I think he has even touched on it, there’s some players that through historical form will probably get a shot but, yeah, one in four, so we haven’t been shooting the lights out and I imagine that will be reflected in a lot of the close selections,” he said.

“He’ll go with the guys in form, you’d hope.”

But after a hellish start to the year, which has been compounded by a horror injury toll, Coleman admits he’s dreaming of turning the tables on the side that started their rut.

“I think I said round one was probably the biggest game of my short career and then this would be one of the better victories if we could pull it off,” he said.

“I’m always a romantic at heart. I like that challenge and I’ve fast-forwarded to the moment when that whistle goes, and we’ve pulled off an upset down there.

“So, it’s definitely something I think a lot and am passionate about. I don’t think passion is our issue at the moment, we’ve just got to make sure that we execute a little better so I’ve got to make sure I’m portraying that as well. I’m pretty passionate by nature, so I’ve got to make sure we’re I’m a little bit more clinical in my messaging so that the boys can be as well.”

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