The missing piece to the Tahs’ title puzzle
FORMER Wallaby Rod Kafer believes the Waratahs may need to beef up their forward pack next season if they are to take the next step and win a Super Rugby title.
NSW were much improved in 2018 but were outmuscled by the Lions in a 44-26 loss in the second semi-final at Johannesburg's Ellis Park.
By his own admission, Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson was lucky to keep his job after a dismal 2017 campaign as NSW finished 16th of 18 teams with a 4-11 record.
But they emerged as one of Super Rugby's most potent forces this season with a comparatively mobile forward pack suiting an uptempo, width based gameplan.
However, it will again be two teams with more traditional, grunty forward packs squaring off in Saturday's final between the Crusaders and Lions in Christchurch.
NSW's only Super Rugby title, in 2014, came off the back of a big pack winning the collision zones and the likes of Jacques Potgieter, Will Skelton, Tatafu Polota-Nau and Kane Douglas influential.
After watching the Waratahs give it plenty but bow out at Ellis Park, Fox Sports' Nick McArdle asked Kafer if it was possible to win a championship with a lightweight pack.
"The answer to that is typically no," Kafer said.
"Look at the teams who are dominating now, it's the teams who have got that hard-working, big forward pack that just dominates at the set piece.
"That's what you need and the Waratahs will look at how they recruit now and look at the players that they might need to put into the mix.
"But they're a good side, a massively improved side.
"Given where they were last year, the changes that they've made, the way that they've developed as a team - I know they've just lost but this team has massively improved from where they were.
"It sets a great platform for them to continue to build and grow going into next year."
Fellow former Wallaby Drew Mitchell said the Waratahs shouldn't ditch what worked well for them this season if they were to go seeking bigger bodies.
"I thought they did tremendously well with the team they've got," Mitchell said.
"I think you've got to have a balance, you don't want a pack of eight big, bullocking ball runners.
"I like the hard work, the width, the speed at which the Waratahs forward pack can play with.
"Having that balance of guys who you know are going to get you over the advantage line and set piece is almost a lock every time.
"I think it's more about getting that balance right."
Former All Black Gibson is off contract at the end of this season but is almost certain to sign a new deal and stay on.
Mitchell said the Waratahs were now getting reward for the faith shown in Gibson by NSW chief executive Andrew Hore.
"It takes a number of seasons to instil the direction you want to take your team and have them buy into it, have that trust between player and coach," Mitchell said.
"It takes a period of time and I think they're starting to benefit from that, this year and if Daryl stays on."
Another former Wallaby, Stephen Hoiles, was a member of that champion 2014 NSW squad.
He said the club was now well placed after knocking the Brumbies off their perch as Australia's leading light.
"The Tahs can be really proud of how far they've come, from 16th, almost last, last year to top four this year," Hoiles said.
"Their shape looks very good, their attack is very threatening and they're not going to lose many players next year.
"So I think it's positive signs."