Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and just like the lone traveller in Robert Frost’s poem, The Road Not Taken, Waratahs coach Rob Penney has had a path to choose in preparing his NSW team this week. Penney’s two roads can be most succinctly described as a choice between detail and desire.
His team face the Western Force, who arrive in Sydney this week as confident of victory as they can ever have been in their history.
They will concentrate on playing the game down the Waratahs’ end of the field by using the tactical versatility that Jake McIntyre’s right and Rob Kearney’s left boot provide.
As seen in their first-round clash against the Brumbies – and they’ll be better after a two-week break – the Force are adept at multiplying the phases and maintaining possession. They lacked the killer blow against the Brumbies but they may not need one against the Waratahs.
Which leads us back to Penney and the week he has endured. You would expect that the Tahs coaching quartet of Penney, Chris Whitaker, Matt Cockbain and Jason Gilmore caught up on Sunday. One of the first questions would’ve been, “How do we approach this week?”
As both a player and coach, I’ve had a few of these Monday “crisis meetings” after a big defeat, where the coach, and often senior players, present to the group how they’re going to turn it around. Unfortunately there’s no tried-and-true method. It’s as much art as science.
I’ve been through it all, from having a few beers, days off or ten-pin bowling at one end of the spectrum, to getting absolutely flogged on the field all week under the gaze of a cranky head coach.
Some groups will push being positive all week, and will have their video analyst track down old footage of victories against that week’s foe or individual players, and come up with a “pump-up” video (these are always popular). I’ve even witnessed bonfires complete with burnt balls, boots and once, a entire boat.
They’re all built on re-discovering desire, but whatever the midweek strategy, it will often culminate in the same thing – a Churchillian pre-game speech. Rugby is also, after all, a game of inches.